Fun Etymology Tuesday – Pidgin – the foreign influences on English

Hello, lovely followers!
It’s Tuesday, and that means our Fun Etymology is here!

Today, we want to go back to the origins of Fun Etymologies and talk to you once more about surprising foreign influences on the English language.

During the 19th century, an…ummm…ethically problematic period in the history of England, the British Empire had, through subterfuge (as well as instigating an actual war), obtained exclusive mercantile access to the Chinese city of Hong Kong. In the ensuing decades, commerce with China exploded, and interest in that millennia-old isolationist empire bloomed as well.

To communicate with the people they were doing business with, the English and Chinese merchants developed what is called a pidgin, a language that develops whenever speakers of two totally different languages have the need to communicate, and which “mixes” grammar and vocabulary from both its parent languages.
The opening of commerce with China was so world-breaking that numerous words made their way from this pidgin to the English language, some of which we still use every day. Here’s a short list:

1. The word “pidgin” itself: probably representing a Cantonese pronunciation of the word “business”.
2. The word “ketchup”, from Min-Nan 鮭汁 (ke-chiap), which originally indicated a kind of fermented fish brine used as a sauce. That’s why Heinz bottles still specify it’s TOMATO ketchup.
3. The expression “long time no see”, a direct translation of Chinese 好久不见 (hǎojiǔbújiàn).
4. The word “chopsticks”, which is a blend of the Cantonese word 速 (approximately pronounced “chuck”, meaning “fast”), with the English word “sticks”, probably influenced from the homophony of the words for “fast” and “chopstick” in Mandarin (both pronounced “kuài”). So basically, a mix of an English word with a Cantonese-Mandarin pun. Talk about complicated!

These are some of the most prominent, but the list is amazingly long. If you look around, you’re bound to find a lot more.

Just another example of how misguided people who want to keep the English language “pure” actually are.
See you next time!

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