Chinese cuisine has been improvising its ingredients and methods of cooking since ancient times. As the Han culture started expanding into areas with distinct geographical characters, ranging from tropical to sub-arctic, new ingredients and indigenous cooking methods were encountered and graciously adapted to the existing cuisine. Another major reason for heavy localisation of Chinese cuisine was because they treated food as an integral part of their health and well-being.
China has been evolving with time, absorbing new ingredients, cooking methods, and spices. Many of the basic ingredients in Chinese cuisine were initially imports.
When the Chinese people started exploring the world, they introduced the world to Chinese cuisine and along with it, some words which eventually became a part of the English language.
Apart from the delicious cuisine, some of the most popular words in English originated from China. Words like ketchup, kumquat, ramen, tea, and much more are surprisingly Chinese in origin.
Ketchup is derived from the word “K’ē Chap” from the late 17th century, which literally translates to tomato juice.
Kumquat is derived from the Chinese word “kam kwat”, which has its origin in the late 17th century. It means ‘little orange’ in Chinese.
Ramen, on the other hand, is a mix of two words in Chinese – “Lā” which means ‘to pull’ and “Miàn” which means ‘noodles’. The Japanese took to calling it Ramen as it is popularly known today.
The word ‘tea’ also has its roots in Chinese language, as “te”. In Mandarin, it was called “cha”, and was adopted by the English in the mid-17th century as ‘tea’.
Tofu comes from Japanese “tōfu“, borrowed from the original Chinese equivalent transcribed “tou-fu” or “dòufu”, literally ‘bean’ + ‘curdled’ or ‘fermented’.
There are many other English words with Chinese origins, which we will explore and understand here.
Certain expressions from Chinese English Pidgin have influenced colloquial English, a process called Calque. ‘Long time no see’ is similar to the phrase in Mandarin traditional, ‘very long time not see’, meaning “haven’t seen [you] in a long time”. This is a commonly used expression by English speakers.
The English term gung-ho/gungho, meaning enthusiastic or overzealous, is an anglicised pronunciation of “gōng hé”, translatable individually as ‘work’ and ‘together’.
The English word kowtow, which means to act in an excessively subservient manner, was taken from Cantonese word “kau tau” that has been historically used to describe the act of showing the highest sign of respect and reverence by prostrating oneself.
The English phrase, ‘chop chop’, which means to ‘hurry up’, finds its roots in Cantonese. This term may have its origin in the South China Sea, as a Pidgin English version of the Chinese term “k’wâi-k’wâi”.
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