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Learn Chinese Chinese Loan Words in the English Language


There are few English words with a Chinese origin. Most of these loan words refer to Chinese objects and concepts such as feng shui and coolie. However, a few, such as gung ho and tycoon have evolved into mainstream usage. Many of the Chinese loan words made into the English language as pronounced in the Cantonese or Amoy dialect because the early contact between the two cultures happened along the southern Chinese ports of call or through the mostly Cantonese immigrants. In addition many of the Japanese words, such as judo or shinto, that were adopted into the English language have a Chinese origin.

English Chinese Source Literal Meaning Remarks
Bok choy White vege­table (Via Cantonese baak choi)
Bonsai Bowl plant (Via Japanese)
Cheong­sam Long dress (Via Cantonese cheong sam) The same dress is known as a qipao () in Mandarin
China Name of the Qin dynasty The West appears to have named China after the first dynasty to unify the country. The Chinese call their country zhong guo () or Central Country.
Chop chop Hurried (Via Cantonese gap)
Chop suey Miscella­neous bits (Via Cantonese jaap seui)
Chow Fried (food)  
Chow chow Doggie A dog breed
Chow mein Fried noodle (Via Cantonese chaau mein)
Coolie Bitter power  
Cumshaw Grateful thanks (Via Amoy dialect)
Dimsum Pointing to the heart (Via Cantonese dim sam)
Feng shui Wind and water  
Gingkgo   (Via Japanese)
Ginseng   (Via Cantonese yan sam)
Gung ho Work together in harmony From motto of some US Marine forces in Asia during WW II
Japan Source of the sun  
J-particle (A surname) The J-particle is a subatomic particle named after its discoverer, Samuel C.C. Ting  (). The letter J resembles the shape of Ting's last name ().
Judo Gentle Way (Via Japanese)
Junk Boat (Via Malay)
Kanji Chinese charac­ters (Via Japanese)
Kaolin Tall mountain peak Name of area of Jiangxi province famed for its white porcelain powder
Ketchup Tomato sauce (Via Cantonese ke jap). Most dictionaries actually list the source of the word as being a Chinese or Malay word meaning fish sauce. They ignore the more direct route: the Cantonese word which sounds like ketchup and which actually means tomato sauce. Duh. (In mandarin, ketchup is called )
Kowtow Knock head  
Kumquat Golden orange (Via Cantonese gam gwat)
Lose face Lose face Literal translation of the chinese phrase menaing humiliation
Loquat   (Via Cantonese lou gwat). Mandarin name is pipa ()
Lychee   (Via Cantonese lai ji)
Oolong Black dragon A type of tea
White down feather (Via Amoy dialect) A type of tea.
Pinyin Sound spelling  
Ricksha (Human-) Powered vehicle (Via Japanese) Short for or human-powered vehicle
Shanghai Northern Sea Used in English as a verb meaning to abduct (Presumably from prior practive by San Francisco boat captains of kidnapping men in order to press them into service in Shanghai bound boats.)
Shaman Sand door  
Shaolin Small forest  
Shinto Saintly way  
Silk Silk  
Shogun Army General  
Soy (sauce)   (Via Japanese shoyu)
Tai chi Ultimate  
Tai chi chuan Ultimate boxing  
Taipan Big boss (Via Cantonese daai baan)
Tangram + gram Chinese picture Tang, the name of one of China's most successful dynasties is used to denote the Chinese people.
Tao (Dao) Way  
Tea Tea (Via Amoy dialect)
Tofu Bean curd  
Tycoon Great official (Via Japanese)
Typhoon Hurricane  
Wok Cauldron (Via Cantonese wok)
Wonton   (Via Cantonese wan tan)
Yamen Official door  
Yen Craving To yearn
Yen Monetary unit (Via Japanese) Japanese money
Yin Yang    

See also