Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Typhoon, Gung-Ho, and Other English Words Borrowed From Chinese

A loanword is a word borrowed from another language. As far as English is concerned, it borrows heavily from several languages across the world. There are many English words borrowed from Chinese. Below, we look at six such loanwords.

1. Ketchup

The word “ketchup” is common across the English-speaking world and mostly refers to a paste made from tomatoes. But unlike what many Americans think, the word is neither Western in origin nor did it have an initial meaning tied to tomatoes. “Ketchup comes from the Hokkien Chinese word, kê-tsiap, the name of a sauce derived from fermented fish. It is believed that traders brought fish sauce from Vietnam to southeastern China. The British likely encountered ketchup in Southeast Asia, returned home, and tried to replicate the fermented dark sauce,” according to National Geographic.

2. Kowtow

In English, to “kowtow” means to agree or obey someone else out of subservience. It comes from the Cantonese word “kau tau.” However, the original word did not have the negative subservient meaning that the current English word has. “Kau tau” meant to lower one’s head down in front of superiors as a sign of respect, usually before emperors, leaders, and parents.

(Image: Screenshot / YouTube)
The Cantonese word ‘kau tau’ meant to lower one’s head down in front of superiors as a sign of respect. (Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

3. Chow

People usually refer to food when they use the word “chow” in a sentence. For instance, “let’s get some Indian chow” is an invitation for someone to come along for Indian cuisine. The word’s usage in the English language goes back to 1856 California when Chinese laborers were hired in huge numbers to build railroads. During those times, it was largely used to refer to Chinese food. But now, “chow” is a term applied to all food items. The word is believed to have originated from the Chinese word “chǎo,” which means to “stir fry.”

4. Typhoon

In Chinese, “tai fung” meant a mighty wind. The English are believed to have picked up the word and then adapted it into the language as “typhoon.” The modern word also has a similarity to the ancient Greek word “tuphon.” Interestingly, a similar word exists in India called “tufan.” Linguists are of the opinion that the English word is influenced by Cantonese and respelled to make it appear more Greek.

5. Gung-ho

Gung-ho basically refers to being in high spirits. When stationed in China in 1937, a U.S. colonel by the name of Evans Carlson noticed that the Chinese army personnel had a unique way of boosting their morale. “Carlson was impressed by how the Chinese troops worked together using a system of cooperation they called gung ho, which means work together. Carlson introduced this phrase to his own Marine troops, but it didn’t really catch on until 1943 when Randolph Scott portrayed a Marine in a movie called Gung Ho! After that, gung ho became a household word and a Marines highest compliment,” according to History.

(Image: Screenshot / YouTube)
After the release of a movie titled ‘Gung-ho’ in 1943, the term came to mean high-spirited in English and served as a compliment for those serving in the Maries. (Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

6. Tycoon

Tycoon, a word that refers to a powerful person, also comes from China. It is inspired by the word “dakuan,”’ which means someone with a lot of money. However, “dakuan” itself originated from an older Cantonese word, “takiun,” which stood for a “great prince.” The Japanese used the term to refer to their leader, shogun Tokugawa Iyesada, when dealing with U.S. personnel in the 1800s. The word eventually became popular and followed U.S. ships back to America.

Follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our weekly email

Armin Auctor
Armin Auctor is an author who has been writing for more than a decade, with his main focus on Lifestyle, personal development, and ethical subjects like the persecution of minorities in China and human rights.

Subscribe to our newsletter


The Superfood That Saw Ancient Andeans Through 2,500 Years of Turmoil

What if the superfood in Indigenous diets could save our politically and ecologically strained planet? The answer may lie...

More Articles Like This