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Unexpected loanwords in Chinese which came from English!

Daniel ZHPY

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Just like the enormously large portion of English vocabulary that was from other languages, in Chinese there're also quite a number of vocabulary with foreign origins. Over centuries, people adopted vocabulary from other languages to express concepts that were not common in local context. And when this vocabulary became a habit in conversations, those words adapted themselves into the Chinese language, just like how English has borrowed vocabulary from French, Latin, Greek, etc.. However, within the loanwords in Chinese, some may sound particularly Chinese despite they originated outside of China. Here I've selected some of those unexpected Chinese loanwords:

 

 

  1. 酷(kù): 酷 is a transcription of the English word "cool", which serves as an exclamatory particle to describe someone is awesome in their appearances or actions. Originally, 酷 means a serious or severe situation, as in the words "酷热"(kù rè, scorching) "酷刑"(kù xíng, savage tortures). However, with the concept borrowed along with the loanword, new words and phrases also have been invented using 酷 such as "酷炫"(kù xuàn, awesome and dazzling) "酷毙了"(kù bì le, dead awesome).
  2. 引擎(yǐn qíng): in Chinese, 引 can mean "to trigger off" and 擎 means "to lift and hold". Combined together, the word can actually be interpreted literally as "to trigger of a power that sustain a movement", which somehow fits well with the meaning of the original word from the English "engine". 
  3. 卡通(kǎ tōng): this word comes from "cartoon". Similarly, the Chinese transliteration is also close to the original meaning by literal interpretation. 卡 means a card, and 通 can mean "easily understood". Hence 卡通 can be interpreted as "things drawn on a piece of paper that can be easily understood", which is one characteristic of cartoon.
  4. 幽默(yōu mò): if you want to praise someone by saying he's witty, 幽默 might probably be the most frequently used word. If somebody is 幽默, they are adept in inventing quality jokes and playing with words to create a comical and relaxing atmosphere for a conversation. But actually this word comes from "humour", and was added the meaning as an adjective in Chinese.
  5. 逻辑(luó jí): another splendid transliteration from English to Chinese. 逻 in Chinese means "to observe the surroundings vigilantly" and 辑 means "to compile information together after rearrangement and analysis". Thus, the word "logic" was introduced into Chinese with the meaning of "the process of gathering, contemplating, analysing, rearranging and interpreting information to draw a conclusion."
  6. 苦力(kǔ lì): differently, the word 苦力 looks exactly like a word with Chinese origin. Even the formation of this word follows the patterns of Chinese strictly. 苦 means "bitter", often representing sufferings and tough times in life. 力 means "force" or "labour". So 苦力 is a perfect combination of characters with the meaning of "hard labour(er)". However, shockingly, it actually came from the taboo "coolie".
  7. 台风(tái fēng): the story of this word would be the most intriguing one. In Mandarin Chinese, 台风 is a transliteration of "typhoon". Interestingly, however, the word "typhoon" came from the word 大风 in Cantonese. Therefore, in fact, 台风 is a loanword of a loanword in English that came from Cantonese, a dialect of Chinese.


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That last one is pretty neat, I didn't realize it was a re-borrowing of the original Cantonese.

 

One that surprised me is 扎, which I've heard speculated is a borrowing through Cantonese from the English "jug".

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Apparently 'coolie' comes to English from Gujarati, which may have got it from Portuguese (I'm going by the OED). The Portuguese were in China, too, so the Chinese may have got it direct from them. Who knows?

Also, you left out 的士, which definitely seems to go from English to Cantonese to Mandarin.

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5 hours ago, li3wei1 said:

Apparently 'coolie' comes to English from Gujarati, which may have got it from Portuguese (I'm going by the OED). The Portuguese were in China, too, so the Chinese may have got it direct from them. Who knows?

Also, you left out 的士, which definitely seems to go from English to Cantonese to Mandarin.

的士 is not technically a typical Mandarin word. This word is mainly used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and other southern regions in China. It's kind of dialect vocab in a sense. In standard Mandarin, the most common used word for "taxi" is 出租车, "a hired car".

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Really? I hear 的士 used in the North for some years. It's not like 士多, which hasn't moved much north.

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31 minutes ago, 889 said:

Really? I hear 的士 used in the North for some years. It's not like 士多, which hasn't moved much north.

Although the northerners do use 的士, 出租车 is spoke much more frequently in the North generally. But when talking of "take a taxi", then yes, in the North 打的 is a very common expression in which 的 stands for 的士.

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杯葛

A Cantonese-speaking friend once used this word in a chat, and since it's not a commonly used word on the mainland, she immediately asked me if I understood. I said "Of course, boycott mah." (In fact, in this specific case, it means 'to ostracize'.) And she was like, "Wow, I didn't know it's a loanword!"

On the face of it 杯葛 looks like there might be some ancient Chinese 典故 involved. And it's hard to connect it with 'boycott' if you don't know the Cantonese pronunciation 'bui1 got3'.

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I have a question about the origin of the English word "gung ho". Does it derive from 龚浩 ?

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