Add oil

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Add oil
The English expression used as a wordplay by a petrol station in Hong Kong, loosely translated as "redeem for rice and add fuel, add oil to you"

"Add oil" is a Hong Kong English expression used as an encouragement and support to a person.[1] Derived from the Chinese phrase Gayau (or Jiayou; Chinese: 加油), the expression is literally translated from the Cantonese phrase. It is originated in Hong Kong and is commonly used by bilingual Hong Kong speakers.[2]

"Add oil" can be roughly translated as "Go for it".[1] Though it is often described as "the hardest to translate well",[3] the literal translation is the result of Chinglish and was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2018.[4]

Etymology and history[edit]

In Cantonese, gā () means "add", and yáu () means "oil" or "fuel". It is cited that the Cantonese term originated as a cheer at the Macau Grand Prix during the 1960s. It was used to imply stepping harder on the gas pedal, giving the car more speed and power to accelerate. It is also a metaphor of injecting fuel into a tank.[5] It was then used as an "all purpose cheer", and used exclusively in both Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese Chinese.[6]

The romanized Cantonese ga yau and literal translation phrase add oil was commonly used since then due to the large number of bilingual Hongkongers. Instead of using the romanised Cantonese, it is reported that the English phrase was used more commonly by young Hongkongers. The increasing use of text-based online communications also contributed to the usage of the English expression.[2]

In October 2018, due to its popularity in English speakers, "Add oil!" was officially added to the online edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. The entry recognises it as Hong Kong English, and verified that the usage of the phrase can be traced back to 1964.[7]


"Add oil Hong Kong" among other messages in support of the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests, in both English and Cantonese on Lennon Walls.

The phrase is a versatile expression typically used in encouraging and supporting speeches. For example, "Add oil, you can do it!".[8] It is also commonly used during sports matches, to encourage athletes to perform well.

The phrase gained its international attention when it was used in the Umbrella revolution in 2014. Local artists set up the "add oil machine",[9] a wall along Gloucester Road. It was used to encourage international supporters to put down supporting messages to the protesters.[10]

The term was also used extensively during the Hong Kong protests in 2019–20.[11] Both Add oil in English and Gayau in Cantonese was written in notes stuck to Lennon Walls as messages in support.

Related terms[edit]

Elsewhere in East Asia, terms used similarly to add oil are the Japanese Ganbatte! (頑張って) and Korean Paiting! (Korean파이팅).


  1. ^ a b "This powerful Hong Kong English phrase is now in the Oxford Dictionary". Inkstone. Retrieved 2018-10-16.
  2. ^ a b "Add oil! The evolution of Hong Kong English, and where our unique words come from". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 2018-10-16.
  3. ^ Lee, Jennifer 8. (13 August 2008). "Lost in Translation: A Chinese Cheer". Rings Blog. Retrieved 2018-10-16.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ "The Chinglish phrase 'add oil' now has an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary". shanghaiist. Retrieved 2018-10-17.
  5. ^ "A Chinese phrase has joined the Oxford English Dictionary. Here's how". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 2018-10-17.
  6. ^ "Pop Cantonese: Word of the Month – 加油 Add Oil - Zolima City Magazine". Zolima City Magazine. 2017-01-18. Retrieved 2018-10-16.
  7. ^ 陳展希 (2018-10-16). "港式英文「add oil」被列入牛津詞典 網民:唔使再畀人話錯啦!" [Chinglish "add oil" added to Oxford Dictionary. Netizens: Never need to be corrected anymore!]. 香港01 (in Chinese (Hong Kong)). Retrieved 2018-10-16.
  8. ^ "'Chinglish' Phrase 'Add Oil' Officially Added to the Oxford English Dictionary". 16 October 2018. Retrieved 2018-10-17.
  9. ^ "How 2014 Hong Kong protests popularised the phrase 'add oil'". South China Morning Post. 2016-09-11. Retrieved 2020-02-06.
  10. ^ Strange, Adario. "Messages Supporting Hong Kong Protesters Stream from Web to the Streets". Mashable. Retrieved 2018-10-16.
  11. ^ Yeung, Jessie (2019-08-21). "Hong Kong protesters are getting tattoos". CNN Style. Retrieved 2019-08-21.