Long time no see

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"Long time no see" or "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, or an imitation of such. The lexicographer Eric Partridge notes that the phrase is akin to "no can do" and "chop chop".[3]


An early 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."[4]

The earliest appearance of the phrase "long time no see" in print recorded in Oxford English Dictionary dates to 1901, found 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.

The phrase is often portrayed as originating either in Native American or in Chinese pidgin English. It may be compared to the Cantonese phrase 好耐冇見 (Jyutping: hou2noi6 mou5 gin3) and the Mandarin phrase 好久不見 (Trad.) / 好久不见 (Simp.), or hǎojiǔ bù jiàn (Pinyin), which is translated literally as "long time, no see" (or, word for word, "very long-time no see"). If from Chinese pidgin, it may be of US Chinatown origin, or alternatively British Far East. Alternatively, it may have been coined by native speakers in imitation of Native American pidgin (as in the pidgin used in cinematic portrayals, as in the language spoken by the character Tonto in the 1930s).[3]


  1. ^ a b "long (a.1 c)". Oxford English Dictionary. 1989. Retrieved September 7, 2010.
  2. ^ cited as an example by Attia, Mohammed A. (2006). "Accommodating Multiword Expressions in an Arabic LFG Grammar". In Salakoski, Tapio (Ed.) Fifth International Conference on Natural Language Processing, pp. 87–109. Springer. ISBN 3-540-37334-9.
  3. ^ a b 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.
  4. ^ Campbell, James (1843). Excursions, Adventures, and Field-Sports in Ceylon; Its Commercial and Military Importance, and Numerous Advantages to the British Emigrant, Vol. 1, p. 254. London: T. and W. Boone.