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List of English words of Chinese origin

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Words of Chinese origin have entered the English language and many European languages. Most of these were loanwords from Chinese itself, a term covering those members of the Chinese branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family. However, Chinese words have also entered indirectly via other languages, particularly Japanese, that used Chinese characters and were heavily influenced by Chinese.

Different sources of loanwords

English words with Chinese origin usually have different characteristics depending how the words were spread to the West. Despite the increasingly widespread use of Mandarin among Chinese people, English words that are based on Mandarin are relatively scarce.

Some words spread to the West ...

  • via the silk road, e.g. silk. These have heavy influence from countries along the silk road.
  • via the missionaries who lived in China. These have heavy Latin influence due the Portuguese and Spanish missionaries.
  • via the sinologists who lived in China. These have heavy French influence due to the long history of French involvement in Sinology.
  • via the maritime trade route, e.g. tea, Amoy, cumshaw etc. These have heavy influence from the Amoy dialect in southern seaports.
  • via the early immigrants to the US in the gold rush era, e.g. chop suey. These have heavy influence from the Toisan dialect.
  • via the multi-national colonization of Shanghai. These have influence from many European countries, also Japan.
  • via the British colonisation of Hong Kong, e.g. cheongsam. These have heavy influence from Cantonese.
  • via modern international communication especially after the 1970s when the People's Republic of China opened its iron curtain to let her people emigrate to various countries, e.g. wushu, feng shui etc. These have heavy influence from Mandarin.
  • via Japanese and (possibly) Korean and Vietnamese. These languages have borrowed large amounts of Chinese vocabulary in the past, written in the form of Chinese characters. The pronunciation of such loanwords is not based directly on Chinese, but on the local pronunciation of Chinese loanwords in these languages, known as Sino-Japanese, Sino-Korean, and Sino-Vietnamese. In addition, the individual characters were extensively used as building blocks for local neologisms with no counterpart in the original Chinese, resulting in words whose relationship to the Chinese language is similar to the relationship between new Latinate words (particularly those that form a large part of the International Scientific Vocabulary) and Latin. Such words are excluded from the list.

Though all these following terms originated from China, the spelling of the English words depends on which language the transliterations came from.

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洗脑,罢官 Etymology: translation of Chinese (Beijing) Date: 1950 1 : a forcible indoctrination to induce someone to give up basic political, social, or religious beliefs and attitudes and to accept contrasting regimented ideas 2 : persuasion by propaganda or salesmanship

–brainwash transitive verb
–brainwash noun
–brainwasher noun

Brainwashing is translated from Chinese literally, word by word. 脑 means brain, 洗 means wash. The word had then been put together in the English language way--Brainwashing.

Bok choy 
(Cantonese) 白菜 (baakchoi), a Chinese cabbage: literally 'white vegetable'


colloquial English word for 'tea', originally from Chinese 茶 (Mandarin chá).
from Cantonese 長衫 (cheungsaam), lit. long clothes.
via Latin from the name of the Ch'in Dynasty
Chop chop 
from Cantonese gup 急, lit. hurry, urgent
from Chinese Pidgin English chop chop.
Chop suey 
from Cantonese 雜碎 (tzapseui), lit. mixed pieces
from Chinese Pidgin English chowchow which means food, perhaps based on Cantonese 炒, lit. stir fry (cooking)
Chow chow 
any of a breed of heavy-coated blocky dogs of Chinese origin
Chow mein 
from Taishanese 炒麵 (chau meing), lit. stir fried noodle, when the first Chinese immigrants, from Taishan came to the United States.
from Confucius, Latinized form of 孔夫子 (kǒng fūzǐ) 'Master Kong'
questionably Chinese 苦力, lit. suffering labor. Some dictionaries say the word came from Hindi kull.
from Amoy 感謝, feeling gratitude


Dalai Lama 
the lama who is the chief spiritual adviser of the Dalai Lama. 班禅喇嘛-- Dalai Lama Etymology -- Panchen from Chinese (Beijing) b*nch*n Date-- 1794. The word Lama (Tibetan Blama) is used in an English translation of Martini’s Conquest of China in 1654; Dalai-lama in 1698.
Dim sum and Dim sim 
from Cantonese 點心 (dimsam), lit. little heart
Doufu and Tofu 
from Cantonese 豆腐 (dau fu), lit. beancurd


from Cantonese 番攤 (fāntān), lit. (take) turns scattering
Feng shui 
from feng, wind and shui, water 風水
Foo dog 
from Mandarin 佛 Buddha (from their use as guardians of Buddhist temples)


mistransliteration of 銀杏 in Japanese
from Mandarin 人參 (renshen), name of the plant. Some say the word came via Japanese (same kanji), although 人参 now means 'carrot' in Japanese; ginseng is 朝鮮人参 ('Korean carrot').
From the Japanese name igo 囲碁 of the Chinese board game. Chinese 围棋, Mandarin: Weiqi.
from Mandarin 工合, short for 工業合作社
Japanese ギョーザ, gairaigo from Chinese 餃子 (Mandarin: Jiaozi), stuffed dumpling. Gyoza refers to the style found in Japan.


Hoisin (sauce) 
from Cantonese 海鮮 (hoísin), lit. seafood


Japanese name for Chinese characters: 漢字, lit. Chinese characters. Chinese: Hanzi.
from 高嶺, lit. high mountain peak
kind of tea, 祁門 Mandarin qímén
possibly from Cantonese or Amoy 茄汁, lit. tomato sauce/juice
Japanese 公案 kōan, from Chinese 公案 (Mandarin gōng'àn), lit. public record
from Cantonese 叩頭, lit. knock head
Kumquat or cumquat
from Cantonese name of the fruit 柑橘 (Gamgwat)
Kung fu 
the English term to collectively describe Chinese martial arts; from Cantonese 功夫 (Gongfu), lit. efforts


Lo mein 
from Cantonese 撈麵 (lòu-mihn), lit. scooped noodle
from Cantonese 龍眼, name of the fruit
from Cantonese 蘆橘, old name of the fruit
from Cantonese 荔枝 (laitzi), name of the fruit


Mao-tai or moutai
from Mandarin 茅台酒 (máotái jiǔ), liquor from Maotai (Guizhou province)
from Cantonese 麻將 (mah-jeung), lit. the mahjong game
Mu shu (pork) 
from Mandarin 木須 (mùxū), lit. wood shredded


Okinawan Japanese, from Min (Taiwan/Fujian) 雙節棍, lit. double jointed sticks


from Amoy 烏龍, lit. dark dragon
from Amoy 白毫, lit. white downy hair


from Cantonese 排九, a gambling game
from Mandarin 拼音, lit. put together sounds


from Mandarin 氣 (qì), spirit
from 旗袍 (qípáo), female traditional Chinese clothing (male version: cheongsam)


Japanese ラーメン, gairaigo, from Chinese 拉麵 (Lamian) lit. pulled noodle. Ramen refers to a particular style flavored to Japanese taste and is somewhat different from Chinese lamian.


from Cantonese 舢舨, the name of such vessel.
from Chinese city Shanghai, to put someone aboard a ship by trickery or intoxication; to put someone in a bad situation or press someone into work by trickery. From an old practice of using this method to acquire sailors for voyages to Shanghai.
from Mandarin 山東,"shantung" (or sometimes "Shantung") is a silk fabric made from the silk of wild silkworms and is usually undyed.
from Mandarin 少林, One of the most important Kungfu clans.
Shar Pei 
from Cantonese 沙皮, lit. sand skin.
Shih Tzu 
from Mandarin 獅子狗, lit. Chinese lion dog
Japanese 将軍, from Chinese 將軍, lit. general (of) military. The full title in Japanese was Seii Taishōgun (征夷大将軍), "generalissimo who overcomes the barbarians"
from Cantonese 师傅, (Mandarin shīfu), master.
possibly from 'si' 絲, lit. silk
from Cantonese 小種茶 (siúchúng ch'ā), lit. small kind tea
From Japanese shoyu 醤油, Chinese 醬油, (Mandarin jiàngyóu).


Tai Chi 
from Mandarin 太極
from Cantonese 大班 (daaibaan), lit. big rank (similar to big shot)
from Chinese Tang (唐) + English gram
Tao  and Taoism 
(also Dao/Daoism) from Mandarin 道 dào
from Amoy
Japanese 豆腐, lit. bean rot. from Chinese 豆腐 (Mandarin dòufu).
from Cantonese 堂
via Japanese 大官, lit. high official; or 大君, lit. great nobleman
颱風 not to be confused with the monster typhon. See also other possible Arabic origin.


from Cantonese 鑊
Won ton 
from Cantonese 雲吞 , lit. 'cloud swallow' as a description of its shape, similar to Mandarin 餛飩
from Mandarin 武術, lit. martial arts
from Mandarin 武侠 , lit. martial arts and chivalrous


from Mandarin 衙門, lit. court
Yen (craving) 
from Cantonese 癮, lit. addiction (to opium)
Yen (Japanese currency) 
Japanese 円 en, from Chinese 圓 (Mandarin yuán), lit. round, name of currency unit
Yin Yang 
陰陽 from Mandarin 'Yin' meaning feminine, dark and 'Yang' meaning masculine and bright


Japanese 禅, from Chinese 禪 (Mandarin Chán), originally from Sanskrit Dhyāna / Pali jhāna.

See also

External links



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Published - January 2009

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