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10 Chinese Loanwords to Expand Your Vocabulary

As we get to know more about the language, we’re featuring 10 Chinese loanwords to expand your vocabulary. There were many words we have listed, but we chose the common English words as a reminder of how the Chinese culture has penetrated our lives. Definitely, it will continue to influence us in various ways.

1. Chopsticks – the English word “chopsticks” first appeared in print when a Scottish traveler named William Dampler described the unfamiliar utensils in his 1699 travelogue called “Voyages and Descriptions.” It may have derived from the Chinese English Pidgin, “chop chop,” which means “quickly.”

2. Feng shui – the Chinese art of creating harmonious surroundings that enhances the balance of negative (yin) and positive (yang) forces in the universe. The term came from the Chinese words of “wind” and “water.” Architects and designers apply this principle when constructing buildings, rooms, and graves since the ancient times. It entered in the English language in the late 1700s.

3. Ketchup – it’s believed that the word came from the Cantonese kejap or Amoy ke-tsiap, referring to a pickled fish sauce or probably an eggplant sauce. The term “ketchup” came in the English language in the early 1700s and was already used as a vernacular of a condiment ever since.

4. Kung fu – initially, it is pronounced and spelled as “Gong fu,” which is roughly translated as “skill achieved through hard work.”

5. Kumquat – this is one of the famous Chinese loanwords in English, which is a literal translation of a Cantonese dialect term that means “gold orange.” The word refers to a tiny citrus fruit used as a preserve.

6. Gung-ho – a US marine officer, named Evans F. Carlson who spent his time in China introduced this word in 1942. He used this word that literally means “work together” to edify the morale of the military men he led. The men were referred to as “Gung Ho Battalion.”

7. Lychee – the word came from the Cantonese laitzi, which is a name of the fruit. The origin was in the 16th century.

8. Mahjong – the word came from the Mandarin word 麻將 (májiàng). It’s the popular mahjong game, which was coined in the 1800s and inspired by the money-suited card games.

9. Qi – if you’re a scrabble player, you must have encountered this word before. In Chinese philosophy, the term refers to vital energies within all the living things in the form of breath and body fluids. It is believed that if you have a balanced “qi,” it means that you’re in good health. It literally translates to “breath.”

10. Tao – it comes from the Chinese word for “path or “way” and refers to a belief that all things happen or exist in the underlying nature of the universe. The philosophy of Taoism is based on this foundational concept. The word entered the English language in the early 1700s, and speakers began to start using the abstract term ever since.

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