List of English words of Chinese origin
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Words of Chinese origin have entered the English language and many European languages. Most of these were loanwords from Chinese itself, a term covering those members of the Chinese branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family. However, Chinese words have also entered indirectly via other languages, particularly Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese, that have all used Chinese characters at some point and contain a large number of Chinese loanwords.
Different sources of loan words
English words with Chinese origin usually have different characteristics depending how the words were spread to the West. Despite the increasingly widespread use of Standard Mandarin among Chinese people, English words that are based on Mandarin are relatively few.
Some words spread to the West ...
- via the missionaries who lived in China. These have heavy Latin influence due the Portuguese and Spanish missionaries.
- via the sinologists who lived in China. These have heavy French influence due to the long history of French involvement in Sinology.
- via the maritime trade route, e.g. tea, Amoy, cumshaw etc. These have heavy influence from the Amoy dialect in southern seaports.
- via the early immigrants to the US in the gold rush era, e.g. chop suey. These have heavy influence from the Toisan dialect.
- via the multi-national colonization of Shanghai. These have influence from many European countries, also Japan.
- via the British colonisation of Hong Kong, e.g. cheongsam. These have heavy influence from Cantonese.
- via modern international communication especially after the 1970s when the People's Republic of China opened its Bamboo Curtain to let its people immigrate to various countries, e.g. wushu, feng shui etc. These have heavy influence from Mandarin.
- via Japanese and (possibly) Korean and Vietnamese. These languages have borrowed large amounts of Chinese vocabulary in the past, written in the form of Chinese characters. The pronunciation of such loanwords is not based directly on Chinese, but on the local pronunciation of Chinese loanwords in these languages, known as Sino-Japanese, Sino-Korean, and Sino-Vietnamese. In addition, the individual characters were extensively used as building blocks for local neologisms with no counterpart in the original Chinese, resulting in words whose relationship to the Chinese language is similar to the relationship between new Latinate words (particularly those that form a large part of the international scientific vocabulary) and Latin. Such words are excluded from the list.
Though all these following terms originated from China, the spelling of the English words depends on which dialect the transliterations came from.
|English Word||Origin of Word||Chinese Word||Phonetic transliteration||Description|
|Bok choy||Cantonese||白菜||baak6 coi3||A Chinese cabbage: lit. 'white vegetable'|
|Brainwashing||Literal translation||洗腦||A calque of Chinese 洗腦 (where 洗 literally means "wash", while 腦 means "brain", hence brainwash), a term and psychological concept first used by the People's Volunteer Army during the Korean War. It may refer to a forcible indoctrination to induce someone to give up basic political, social, or religious beliefs and attitudes and to accept contrasting regimented ideas; or persuasion by propaganda or salesmanship. The term "brainwashing" came into the mainstream English language after Western media sources first utilized the term to describe the attitudes of POWs returning from the Korean War.|
|Catsup||Hokkien (Amoy)||茄汁||see Ketchup|
|Char||Cantonese||茶||caa4||Colloquial English word for 'tea'|
|Cheongsam||Cantonese||長衫||coeng4 saam1||lit. long clothes. Popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries.|
|Ch'i or "qi"||Mandarin||氣||qi||Energy of an object or person, literally air or spirit. (This word is correctly represented in Wade–Giles romanization by "ch'i," but the rough breathing mark (replaced by an apostrophe in most texts) has disappeared in colloquial English.)|
|Chin chin, or chin-chin||Mandarin||請||qǐng||An exclamation used to express good wishes before drinking, lit. "please; to invite". While occasionally used in American English, chin-chin is an informal and outdated British English usage, for instance, the TV sitcom As Time Goes By.|
|China||Mandarin||秦 or 晉||qín||Via Latin Sina, Persian چین Cin, and Sanskrit चीन Chinas; ultimately from the name of the Qin 秦 or Jin 晉|
|Chop chop||Cantonese||速速||cuk1 cuk1||lit. hurry, urgent|
|Chopsticks||Pidgin||n/a||from Chinese Pidgin English chop chop.|
|Chop suey||Cantonese||雜碎||zaap6 seoi3||lit. mixed pieces|
|Chow||Cantonese||炒||caau2||From "chow chow" which means food, perhaps based on Cantonese. Lit. stir fry (cooking)|
|Chow chow||Cantonese||any of a breed of heavy-coated blocky dogs of Chinese origin|
|Chow mein||Cantonese (Taishanese)||炒麵||chau meing||lit. stir fried noodle, when the first Chinese immigrants from Taishan came to the United States.|
|Confucius||Jesuit latinization||孔夫子||kôngfūzî||Latinized form of 'Master Kong'|
|Cumshaw||Hokkien (Amoy)||感謝||gamsia||feeling gratitude|
|Dalai Lama||Mongolian and Tibetan||Далай and བླ་མ||The name is a combination of the Mongolian word Далай "Dalai" meaning "Ocean" and the Tibetan word བླ་མ "Blama" (with a silent b) meaning "chief" or "high priest." The name literally means "Ocean Teacher."-, the lama who is the chief spiritual adviser of the Dalai Lama. 班禅喇嘛—Dalai Lama Etymology—Panchen from Chinese (Beijing). The word Lama (Tibetan Blama) is used in an English translation of Martini's Conquest of China in 1654-1698.|
|Dim sum and Dim sim||Cantonese||點心||dim2sam1||lit. touches the heart|
|Fan-tan||Cantonese||番攤||faan1 taan1||lit. (take) turns scattering|
|Feng shui||Mandarin||風水||fengshui||from feng, wind and shui, water; (slang) Denotes an object or scene which is aesthetically balanced (generally used in construction or design)|
|Foo dog||Mandarin||佛||fó||Buddha (from their use as guardians of Buddhist temples)|
|Ginkgo||Sino-Japanese||銀杏||mistransliteration of ginkyō or ginnan in Japanese|
|Ginseng||Hokkien||人參||jîn sim||Name of the plant. Some say the word came via Japanese (same kanji), although 人参 now means 'carrot' in Japanese; ginseng is 朝鮮人參 ('Korean carrot').|
|Go||Sino-Japanese||圍棋||igo||Japanese name (囲碁) of the Chinese board game. Chinese 圍棋, Mandarin: Weiqi.|
|Guanxi||Mandarin||關係||guānxi||Refers to connections or relationships in Chinese culture. It is occasionally a reference to nepotism or cronyism among Chinese businesses and bureaucracies.|
|Gung-ho||Cantonese||工合||gun1 hap6||Short for 工業合作社|
|Gyoza||Japanese (Gairaigo)||ギョーザ||gairaigo||from Chinese 餃子 (Mandarin: Jiaozi), stuffed dumpling. Gyoza in English refers to the fried dumpling style (as opposed to water boiled).|
|Hanfu||Mandarin||漢服||hànfú||lit. Han clothing. Traditional Chinese clothes; it includes several varieties for both men and women.|
|Har gow||Cantonese||蝦餃||haa1 gaau2||lit. shrimp dumpling|
|Hoisin (sauce)||Cantonese||海鮮||hoi2 sin1||lit. seafood|
|Kanji||Sino-Japanese||漢字||Japanese name for Chinese characters. Chinese: Hànzì.|
|Kaolin||Mandarin||高嶺||lit. high mountain peak, the name of a village or suburb of Jingde Town, in Jiangxi Province, that was the site of a mine from which kaolin clay (高嶺土 gāo lǐng tǔ) was taken to make the fine porcelain produced in Jingde.|
|Keemun||Cantonese||祁門||kei4 mun4||tea from Qimen in China|
|Ketchup||Hokkien (Amoy)||茄汁||In the 17th century, the Chinese mixed a concoction of pickled fish and spices and called it (in the Amoy dialect) kôe-chiap or kê-chiap (鮭汁) meaning the brine of pickled fish (鮭, salmon; 汁, juice) or shellfish.By the early 18th century, the sauce had made it to the Malay states (present day Malaysia and Singapore), where it was later discovered by English explorers. That word then gradually evolved into the English word "ketchup", and was taken to the American colonies by English settlers|
|Koan||Sino-Japanese||公案||kōan||From Chinese 公案 (Mandarin gōng'àn), lit. public record|
|Kowtow||Cantonese||叩頭||kau3 tau4||lit. knock head|
|Kumquat or cumquat||Cantonese||柑橘||gam1 gwat1||Name for tangerines|
|Kung fu||Cantonese||功夫||gun1 fu1||the English term to collectively describe Chinese martial arts, lit. efforts|
|Lo mein||Cantonese||撈麵||lou4 min6||literally scooped noodle|
|Longan||Cantonese||龍眼||lung4 ngaan5||name of the fruit, literally "Dragon's eye"|
|Long time no see||Cantonese||好耐冇見||hou2 noi6 mou5 gin3||a common greeting literally translated|
|Loquat||Cantonese||蘆橘||lou4 gwat1||old name of the fruit|
|Lychee||Cantonese||荔枝||lai6 zi1||name of the fruit|
|Mao-tai or moutai||Mandarin||茅台酒||máotái jiǔ||liquor from Maotai (Guizhou province)|
|Mahjong||Cantonese||麻將||maa4 zoeng3||lit. the mahjong game|
|Mu shu||Mandarin||木須||mùxū||lit. wood shredded pork|
|Nankeen||Mandarin||南京||Nanking||Durable cotton, buff-colored cloth originally made in the city Nanjing (Nánjīng, previously romanized as Nanking).|
|No can do||Literal translation||唔可以 (Cantonese); 不可以 (Mandarin)||ng3 ho2 ji5, or Bù kěyǐ||Literal translation of no |
|Nunchaku||Hokkien (Taiwan/Fujian)||雙節棍||Via Okinawan Japanese, lit. double jointed sticks|
|Oolong||Hokkien (Amoy)||烏龍||oo long||lit. dark dragon|
|Pai gow||Cantonese||排九||paai4 gau2||a gambling game|
|Pekin||Cantonese||北京||bak1 ging1||a patterned silk cloth|
|Pinyin||Mandarin||拼音||pinyin||lit. put together sounds; spelled-out sounds|
|Pekoe||Hokkien (Amoy)||白毫||lit. white downy hair|
|pongee||Cantonese||本機||lit. our own loom, homespun, and so a kind of thin silk|
|Qipao||Mandarin||旗袍||qípáo||lit. Manchurian dress. Manchurian ethnic female clothing (male version: cheongsam)|
|Ramen||Sino-Japanese||拉麵||lāmiàn||The word for Japanese noodle (Japanese ラーメン, gairaigo) uses the sound from the Chinese pronunciation of the characters, which means pulled noodle. Ramen refers to a particular style flavored to Japanese taste and is somewhat different from Chinese lamian.|
|Rickshaw||Sino-Japanese||人力車||rénlìchē||A Japanese neologism, jinrikisha (c. 1887) composed of Chinese elements 人 (rén/jin) "human," 力 (lì/riki) "power," and 車 (chē/sha) "vehicle."|
|Sampan||Cantonese||舢舨||saan1 baan2||the name of such vessel.|
|shanghai||Mandarin||上海||shànghâi||city of Shanghai, used as slang, meaning: to put someone aboard a ship by trickery or intoxication; to put someone in a bad situation or press someone into work by trickery. From an old practice of using this method to acquire sailors for voyages to Shanghai.|
|shantung||Mandarin||山東||shāndōng||"shantung" (or sometimes "Shantung") is a wild silk fabric made from the silk of wild silkworms and is usually undyed.|
|Shaolin||Mandarin||少林||shàolín||One of the most important Kungfu clans.|
|Shar Pei||Cantonese||沙皮||saa1 pei4||lit. sand skin.|
|Shih Tzu||Mandarin||獅子狗||lit. lion child dog (Chinese lion)|
|Shogun||Sino-Japanese||將軍||lit. general (of) military. The full title in Japanese was Seii Taishōgun (征夷大将軍), "generalissimo who overcomes the barbarians"|
|Siu mai||Cantonese||燒賣||siu1 maai6||pork dumplings, lit. to cook and sell|
|Souchong||Cantonese||小種茶||siu2 zung2 caa4||lit. small kind tea|
|Soy||Sino-Japanese||醬油||Japanese pronunciation of shoyu|
|Tai Chi||Mandarin||太極||tàijí||T'ai chi "Great Ultimate" or T'ai Chi Ch'üan, usually miswritten as Tai Chi Chuan, a form of physical discipline, from Mandarin 太極拳，lit, "Great Ultimate(fist =) Fighting."|
|Tai-Pan||Cantonese||大班||daai6 baan1||lit. big rank (similar to big shot)|
|Tangram||Compound word||唐||tang||from Tang + English gram|
|Tao and Taoism (also Dao/Daoism)||Mandarin||道||dào||The Way or the path|
|Tea||Hokkien (Amoy)||茶||dey||In Portuguese, Tea is pronounced as Cha(茶), so the earlier traders of Tea are probably the Portuguese.|
|Tofu||Cantonese||豆腐||dau6 fu6||lit. bean curd, from|
|tung oil||Cantonese||桐油||tun4 yau4||oil extracted from nuts of the tong tree|
|Tycoon||Sino-Japanese||大官||lit. high official; or 大君, lit. great nobleman|
|Typhoon||Hokkien (Taiwanese)  or Cantonese||颱風||thai-hong (usu. hong-thai in Taiwanese now); toi4 fung1 (Cantonese)||not to be confused with the monster: typhon.|
|Wok||Cantonese||鑊||wok6||lit. boiler or cauldron|
|Won ton||Cantonese||雲吞||wan4 tan1||lit. 'cloud swallow' as a description of its shape|
|Wushu||Mandarin||武術||lit. martial arts|
|Wuxia||Mandarin||武俠||lit. martial arts and chivalrous|
|Yen||Cantonese||癮||yan5||Craving: lit. addiction (to opium)|
|Yen (Japanese currency)||Sino-Japanese||円||en||from Chinese 圓, lit. round, name of currency unit|
|Yin Yang||Mandarin||陰陽||yīnyáng||'Yin' meaning feminine, dark and 'Yang' meaning masculine and bright|
|Zen||Sino-Japanese||禅||chán||from Chinese 禪 , originally from Sanskrit ध्यान Dhyāna / Pali झन jhāna.|
- List of Chinese words of English origin
- List of Spanish words of Chinese origin
- Category:Chinese words and phrases
- Harper, Douglas. "brainwashing". Online Etymology Dictionary. Dictionary.com. Retrieved January 15, 2012.
- Oxford British & World English dictionary entry for chin-chin.
- Partridge, Eric, and Beale, Paul (2002). A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, p. 1386. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-29189-5, ISBN 978-0-415-29189-7.
- (accessed on 10 March 2008)
- Andrew F. Smith (1996). Pure Ketchup: A History of America's National Condiment, with Recipes. Univ of South Carolina Press,. p. 5.
- Hànyǔ means the spoken language of the Han people and pīnyīn literally means "spelled-out sounds".Pinyin
- "Meteorology Encyclopedia". Central Weather Bureau, Taiwan (R.O.C.).