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15 Words English Borrowed from Chinese Dialects

Over time, English has adopted words from multiple languages across the globe. Many everyday words and phrases used to describe all manner of things, from ingredients to activities, are borrowed from various dialects of Chinese (such as Mandarin or Cantonese).


Bok choy is an Asian green that can be cooked or eaten raw. In Chinese dialects, the expression derives from words meaning “white vegetable” because of the white stalks. Ketchup, also spelled catsup, is thought to derive from Chinese words referring to the juice of an eggplant. Oolong, literally meaning black dragon, and pekoe, meaning white hair, are types of tea. In fact, the word tea itself comes from a Chinese word! Other Chinese food words include ginseng and lychee.


We get the names of various dog breeds from Chinese dialects. Shar peis, a breed distinctive for loose wrinkly skin, get their name from Chinese words meaning “sand” and “fur.” We also get the breed name for shih tzus from Chinese words meaning “lion dog.”


The expression chop chop, an impatient way of telling someone to hurry up, comes from a Chinese expression with a similar meaning. Yin-and-yang describes the interaction of darkness and brightness and has come to connote people with opposite or complementary qualities (for example, “She is the yin to his yang”). Gung ho, which in English means enthusiastically or wholeheartedly, has an interesting story. A US Marine officer used the phrase as a training slogan after learning the name of the Chinese Industrial Cooperative Society derived from a literal translation of the Chinese expression for “work together.”

Other Cool Things

Many martial art forms, such as tai chi and kung fu, owe their names to their Chinese origin. Mahjong is a fun matching game that many enjoy. Rickshaw is an alternative name of jinrikisha, a small cart pulled by a human driver that was once very popular in China and Japan.

This article contains only a few words adopted from Chinese dialects. With a little investigation of your own, you will discover many more Chinese words embedded in the English language. Why not brainstorm with your family and friends to see how many more you know?

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