English words from Chinese words are often denoted as being ‘loanwords.’ A loanword is one that does not share a literal translation of the word. Rather the word is based on the adopted language. Quite simply, the word is borrowed and then co-opted into the new language. Words, such as, bok choy or brain wash are referred to as a calque, because the meaning is the same in both Chinese and English.
1. Gung Ho 长庚何
Pronounced gōng hé in Mandarin. The literal translation is,”work together.” The English use was popularized by Marines fighting in the Pacific in World War II. The phrase came to mean: “whole heartedly enthusiastic, and loyal, eager, and zealous.”
2. Typhoon 台风
Pronounced dàfēng in Mandarin and tai fung in Cantonese. The literal translation is “strong wind.” Experts say the term, typhon from the Greek and Arabic, was strengthened with the Chinese translation.
3. Chopsticks 筷子
British sailors are said to have first used this word in the late 17th century. The term derives from the word ‘kap kap’, which sounds like chop-chop to the English ear. The Chinese word literally means “fast.”
4. China 中国
In Chinese, the name is pronounced zhōng guó and literally means “the middle country.” The name was first used by the Italian explorer, Marco Polo.
5. Catsup (Ketchup) 番茄酱
Pronounced koechiap and literally means “brine of fish.” Originally, ketchup was a tomato based sauce for fish. Purportedly, introduced to England by William Ketchner.
6. Silk 丝绸
Pronounced si in Mandarin. The word was first introduced to Western culture by smugglers who took silk worms and mulberry leaves out of China in 552 Common Era (CE).
7. Feng Shui 风水
Literally wind and water. It is the Chinese belief in creating a spiritual balance in one’s home and workplace. The word was first introduced to Westerners in 1757.
8. J-Particle J 粒子
A subatomic particle discovered by Samuel C. C. Ting. The letter J resembles the Chinese symbol of Ting’s last name.
9. Kowtow 磕头
Literally means “knock head.” Pronounced e k’o-t’ou in Chinese. In China the word is a way of bowing and touching the forehead to the ground to indicate respect. In English the word means to “be servile: to behave in an extremely submissive way in order to please somebody in a position of authority.”
10. Junk 垃圾
The literal translation in Chinese is “boat.” In 1884 the term came to mean “old refuse from boats and ships,” and eventually came to mean trash in Western culture.
11. Lose Face 丢了面子
The literal translation is “humiliation” and is pronounced tu lien in Chinese. The word is said to have been introduced to English speakers in 1876.
12. Shanghai 上海
Shanghai is a Chinese seaport. The word in English came to mean, “to drug a man unconscious and ship him as a sailor.” This was the practice of ‘recruiting’ sailors to the seaport of Shanghai.
13. Tai Chi 太极
In Chinese, the word is literally translated to the “supreme ultimate.” It is now used in American lingo to describe the martial art of tai chi. Some emphasize the slow movements as a form of exercise, while others practice it as a martial art.
14. Oolong 乌龙茶
Literally “black dragon.” First introduced to the English language in 1852 as a dark, black tea.
15. Tea 茶
Pronounced chá in Chinese. Introduced to the English in 1852, from the Mandarin.
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