Long time no see

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"Long time no see" is an English expression used as a greeting by people who have not seen each other for a while. Its origins in American English appear to be an imitation of broken or pidgin English,[1] and despite its ungrammaticality it is widely accepted as a fixed expression. The phrase is a multiword expression that cannot be explained by the usual rules of English grammar due to the irregular syntax.[2] It may derive ultimately from an English pidgin such as that spoken by Native Americans or Chinese, but there is no conclusive evidence for either. It matches Nepali grammar.[citation needed]


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest appearance of the phrase "long time no see" in print was in 1901 in W. F. Drannan's Thirty-One Years on the Plains and in the Mountains, in which a Native American man is recorded as greeting the narrator by saying, "Good morning. Long time no see you."[1] This example is intended to reflect usage in American Indian Pidgin English.

An earlier use of the phrase, though not as a greeting, is from Lieut.-Colonel James Campbell's Excursions, Adventures, and Field-Sports in Ceylon (published 1843): "Ma-am—long time no see wife—want go to Colombo see wife."[3]

The belief that the phrase may have derived from the Chinese Pidgin English used to facilitate communication between Chinese and English speakers is popular. It may be compared to the Cantonese phrase 好耐冇見 (Cantonese pinyin: hou2 noi6 mou5 gin3) and the Mandarin phrase 好久不見/好久不见 (hǎo jiǔ bú jiàn), which can be translated literally as "long time, no see" (or, word to word, "very long time no see"). This may have entered American English in the 19th century via Chinese immigrants and their descendants, and into British English by way of the Merchant Navy and the Royal Navy.[citation needed] The lexicographer Eric Partridge notes that it is akin to the phrases "no can do" and "chop chop".[4]


  1. ^ a b "long (a.1 c)". Oxford English Dictionary. 1989. Retrieved September 7, 2010. 
  2. ^ Attia, p. 88.
  3. ^ Campbell, p. 254.
  4. ^ Partridge and Beale, p. 1386.