Happy Chinese New Year!

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February 5th 2019 is Chinese New Year, marking the beginning of the Year of the Pig. You can learn more about Chinese New Year traditions here.

Here are 10 English words and phrases which originate from Chinese languages:

  1. Char
    This colloquial term for tea dates back to the late 16th century and is a version of the Mandarin dialect word 'chá'.
  2. Chin chin
    You may have heard this phrase said by someone who is about to sip a drink. The expression has been used to express good wishes before drinking since the late 18th century when it was an English pronunciation of the Chinese 'qing qing'.
  3. Chopsticks
    Used in English since the late 17th century, 'chopstick' is a partial translation of 'k'wai tse' which literally means 'quick or nimble ones'. The English 'chop' comes from the Cantonese 'kap' which is also the origin of the phrase 'chop chop'.
  4. Feng shui
    'Feng shui' refers to a system of laws that govern spatial arrangement in relation to the flow of energy and its effects. The phrase as been used in English since the late 18th century, from 'feng' meaning 'wind' and 'shui' meaning 'water'.
  5. Gung-ho
    If someone is 'gung-ho' it means they are enthusiastic or overzealous, usually about taking part in warfare. It comes from the Chinese 'gonghe' which means 'work together'. The phrase took on its English meaning after it was adopted as a motto by US Marines in 1942.
  6. Kowtow
    Used in English since the early 19th century, 'kow tow' comes from the Chinese 'k'o-t'ou' which refers to the custom of lowering the forehead to the ground while kneeling in respect or submission. It literally translates to 'knock the head'. In English, the phrase 'kow tow' is used figuratively to describe acting in a subservient way.
  7. Kumquat
    The English word for this citrus fruit comes from the Cantonese dialect word 'kam kwat' meaning 'little orange'. It has been used in English since the late 17th century.
  8. Typhoon
    The word 'typhoon' describes tropical storms that occur in the Indian and western Pacific oceans and has been used in English since the late 16th century. It possibly comes from the Chinese dialect word 'tai fung' which means 'big wind'.
  9. Wok
    'Wok' is a direct loanword from Cantonese dialect and has been used in English since 1952. It refers to a bowl-shaped frying pan used in Chinese cooking.
  10. Zen
    The word 'zen' refers to the Japanese school of Mahayana Buddhism and comes from the Chines 'chian' meaning 'quiettude'. The word has existed in English since the 18th century and has been used as an adjective since the 19th century.

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Online Etymology Dictionary
Oxford Dictionaries

04 Feb 2019
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