Add oil

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Add oil
Hong Kong petrol station add oil billboard.png
The 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 (Chinese: 加油; pinyin: jiā yóu; Jyutping: gaa1 jau4) is a Hong Kong English expression used as an encouragement and support to a person.[1] Originated in Hong Kong, the phrase is commonly used by Chinese speakers in both English and Chinese. The phrase is the result of Chinglish, and is often described as "the hardest to translate well".[2][3] Add oil can be roughly translated as "Go for it".[1]

The phrase 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 Chinese 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 originally used exclusively in 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 2008, the phrase was used as the official cheer of the Chinese Olympic Team. The term was used in a majority of Chinese media.[7][8]

The Chinese word of "Add oil" during the Umbrella Movement in Central, Hong Kong.

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

"Add oil" among other messages in support of Hong Kong protests in August 2019, in both English and Cantonese

In October 2018, "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.[10]

The term was used as a "rallying cry" and phrase for support during the 2019 Hong Kong protests. It also became a popular tattoo for protesters; with a certain design the Cantonese text for the phrase, when read sideways, appears to be the Chinese text saying 'Hong Kong'.[11]


The phrase is a versatile expression typically used in encouraging and supporting speeches. For example, "Add oil, you can do it!".[12] It is also commonly used during sports matches, to encourage athletes to perform well.

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 Chinglish 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. "Lost in Translation: A Chinese Cheer". Rings Blog. Retrieved 2018-10-16.
  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. ^ Editorial, Reuters. "Add oil! Add oil!". U.S. Retrieved 2018-10-16.
  8. ^ "Chinese Cheer Makes Olympic Debut". Retrieved 2018-10-16.
  9. ^ Strange, Adario. "Messages Supporting Hong Kong Protesters Stream from Web to the Streets". Mashable. Retrieved 2018-10-16.
  10. ^ 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). Retrieved 2018-10-16.
  11. ^ Yeung, Jessie (2019-08-21). "Hong Kong protesters are getting tattoos". CNN Style. Retrieved 2019-08-21.
  12. ^ "'Chinglish' Phrase 'Add Oil' Officially Added to the Oxford English Dictionary". Retrieved 2018-10-17.