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VOA慢速英语--Some Very 'American' Words Come from Chinese

时间:2018-02-21 15:19来源:互联网 提供网友:nan   字体: [ ]


On a recent program, we told you the stories of English words borrowed from other languages. Today, we will tell you about words that English has taken from Chinese.

Many of the Chinese words that are now part of English were borrowed long ago. They are most often from Cantonese or other Chinese languages rather than Mandarin1.

Let’s start with kowtow.


The English word kowtow is a verb that means to agree too easily to do what someone else wants you to do, or to obey someone with power in a way that seems weak.

It comes from the Cantonese word kau tau, which means “knock your head.” It refers to the act of kneeling and lowering one’s head as a sign of respect to superiors – such as emperors, elders and leaders. In the case of emperors, the act required the person to touch their head to the ground.

In 1793, Britain’s King George III sent Lord George Macartney and other trade ambassadors to China to negotiate a trade agreement. The Chinese asked them to kowtow to the Qianlong Emperor. As the story goes, Lord Macartney refused for his delegation2 to do more than bend their knees. He said that was all they were required to do for their own king.

It is not surprising, then, that Macartney left China without negotiating the trade agreement.

After that, critics used the word kowtow when anyone was too submissive to China. Today, the usage has no connection to China, nor any specific political connection.


Another borrowed word that came about through contact between two nations is gung-ho.

In English, the word gung-ho is an adjective that means extremely excited about doing something. The Chinese characters "gōng" and "hé" together mean "work together, cooperate.”

The original term -- gōngyè hézuòshè -- means Chinese Industrial Cooperatives. The organizations were established in the 1930s by Westerners in China to promote industrial and economic development.

Lt. Colonel Evans Carlson of the United States Marine3 Corps4 observed these cooperatives while he was in China. He was impressed, saying “…all the soldiers dedicated5 themselves to one idea and worked together to put that idea over.”

He then began using the term gung-ho in the Marine Corps to try to create the same spirit he had witnessed. In 1942, he used the word as a training slogan for the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion6 during World War II. The men were often called the “Gung Ho Battalion.” From then, the word gung-ho spread as a slogan throughout the Marine Corps. Today, its meaning has no relation to the military.


In English, a typhoon is a very powerful and destructive storm that occurs around the China Sea and in the South Pacific.

The word history of typhoon had a far less direct path to the English language than gung-ho. And not all historical accounts are the same.

But, according to the Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories, the first typhoons reported in the English language were in India and were called “touffons” or “tufans.”

The word tufan or al-tufan is Arabic and means violent storm or flood. The English came across this word in India and borrowed it as touffon.

Later, when English ships encountered violent storms in the China Sea, Englishmen learned the Cantonese word tai fung, which means “great wind.” The word’s similarity to touffon is only by chance.

The modern form of the word – typhoon – was influenced by the Cantonese but respelled to make it appear more Greek.


A kumquat is a fruit that looks like a small orange. It is native to South Asia and the Asia-Pacific.

The word kumquat comes from the Cantonese word kam-kwat or gām-gwāt, meaning “golden orange.” Gām means “golden” and gwāt means “citrus fruit” or “orange.” The word also refers to the plant that carries this fruit.

In 1846, a collector for the London Horticultural Society introduced kumquats to Europe. Not long after, the fruit found its way to North America.


Another food-related word from Chinese is chow. The English word chow is slang for “food.” American English speakers also use the phrasal verb “chow down,” which can mean to eat something quickly and without good manners.

It comes from the Cantonese verb ch’ao, which means “to stir-fry” or “to cook.”

The American English usage of the word chow as “food” dates back to 1856 in California. Chinese laborers7 built the railroads in that state. Back then, the word mainly referred to Chinese food. Today it refers to all kinds of food.


Most Americans would have a hard time believing that ketchup was not created right here in the U-S-A.

Ketchup is America’s most popular condiment9. But, as VOA Learning English reported last year, the story of ketchup began more than 500 years ago in Southeast Asia.

The word ketchup most likely comes from the word ke-tsiap, from a Chinese dialect called Amoy. The word originally referred to a type of sauce made from mixing pickled fish with spices.

And, historians say, the sauce was probably first created in a Chinese community in northern Vietnam. Later, this sauce would reach Indonesia and be called kecap.

The word first met the English language in the late 17th century, when a British colony in Indonesia came into contact with this sauce.

Back in England, the English first used the word to refer to many types of sauces.

Later, English settlers brought ketchup with them to the American colonies, but the condiment did not contain tomatoes until the mid-19th century.

Join us again soon to learn the history of English words borrowed from other languages.

I’m Pete Musto. And I’m Alice Bryant.

Words in This Story

kneel – v. to be in a position in which both of your knees are on the floor

superior – n. a person of higher rank or status than another

submissive – adj. willing to obey someone else

original – adj. happening or existing first or at the beginning

promote – v. to help something happen, develop or increase

dedicate – v. to use time, money, energy or attention for something)

slogan – n. a word or phrase that is easy to remember and is used by a group or business to attract attention

horticultural – adj. related to the science of growing fruits, vegetables and flowers

pickled – adj. preserved with salt water or vinegar

condiment – n. something (such as salt, mustard, or ketchup) that is added to food to give it more flavor

sauce – n. a thick liquid that is eaten with or on food to add flavor to it


1 Mandarin TorzdX     
  • Just over one billion people speak Mandarin as their native tongue.大约有十亿以上的人口以华语为母语。
  • Mandarin will be the new official language of the European Union.普通话会变成欧盟新的官方语言。
2 delegation NxvxQ     
  • The statement of our delegation was singularly appropriate to the occasion.我们代表团的声明非常适合时宜。
  • We shall inform you of the date of the delegation's arrival.我们将把代表团到达的日期通知你。
3 marine 77Izo     
  • Marine creatures are those which live in the sea. 海洋生物是生存在海里的生物。
  • When the war broke out,he volunteered for the Marine Corps.战争爆发时,他自愿参加了海军陆战队。
4 corps pzzxv     
  • The medical corps were cited for bravery in combat.医疗队由于在战场上的英勇表现而受嘉奖。
  • When the war broke out,he volunteered for the Marine Corps.战争爆发时,他自愿参加了海军陆战队。
5 dedicated duHzy2     
  • He dedicated his life to the cause of education.他献身于教育事业。
  • His whole energies are dedicated to improve the design.他的全部精力都放在改进这项设计上了。
6 battalion hu0zN     
  • The town was garrisoned by a battalion.该镇由一营士兵驻守。
  • At the end of the drill parade,the battalion fell out.操练之后,队伍解散了。
7 laborers c8c6422086151d6c0ae2a95777108e3c     
n.体力劳动者,工人( laborer的名词复数 );(熟练工人的)辅助工
  • Laborers were trained to handle 50-ton compactors and giant cranes. 工人们接受操作五十吨压土机和巨型起重机的训练。 来自《现代英汉综合大词典》
  • Wage-labour rests exclusively on competition between the laborers. 雇佣劳动完全是建立在工人的自相竞争之上的。 来自英汉非文学 - 共产党宣言
8 ketchup B3DxX     
  • There's a spot of ketchup on the tablecloth.桌布上有一点番茄酱的渍斑。
  • Could I have some ketchup and napkins,please?请给我一些番茄酱和纸手巾?
9 condiment 8YJzv     
  • It has long been a precious condiment.它一直都是一种珍贵的调味料。
  • Fish sauce is a traditional fermented condiment in coastal areas.鱼露是沿海地区的传统发酵调味品。
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