Kung Hei Fat Choi

恭喜发财 Kung Hei Fat Choi!

In celebration of the Chinese New Year, I’ve decided the next article in my series on English words of foreign origin should focus on Chinese.


Chow Chow

The Chow is one of the oldest recognised breeds of dog, being one of the first distinct breeds to evolve from wolves. In Northern China, where it was originally bred, it is known as Songshi Quan, or ‘puffy lion dog’.

Shar Pei

A highly wrinkled dog breed whose name means ‘sand skin’. This breed has a distinctive blue-black tongue and curled tail.

Shih Tzu

The Shih Tzu, in addition to being the breed of dog most likely to cause endless giggling amongst children or the immature, is a toy dog breed with long, silky hair. Its name is both singular and plural, and means ‘lion dog’. It looks nothing like a lion.


Bok Choy

A variety of Chinese cabbage, which does not grow a head like other cabbages, instead growing long, spoon-like leaf blades. Also known as Pak Choi, the name Bok Choy comes from the Cantonese for ‘white vegetable’.


A word well known to any true Englishman or Englishwoman – it’s tea! This was a common slang word for the ancient Chinese beverage during the 19th and 20th centuries.


Mmm, let’s grab some of that chow! Yes, the word chow for food comes from the Cantonese 炒 (stir fry).

Chow Mein

Stir fried noodles. Contrary to popular belief, it shouldn’t be pronounced like ‘Chow Main’, but rather ‘Chow Maing’ with a velar nasal (like the end of the word sing).

Dim Sum

Simple, quick, bite-sized foods. Dim Sum is served with tea – think the Chinese equivalent of British afternoon tea – and its name means ‘touches the heart’.


The most delicious sauce known to man – well, certainly the most delicious sauce known to me. A thick, pungently aromatic sauce which matches perfectly with duck and pork. Ironically, the name Hoisin is a translation of the Cantonese word for seafood. Hoisin contains no seafood ingredients and is rarely served with seafood.


It’s called ketchup, not Catsup. Even if it’s spelled catsup, consumers still pronounce it ketchup. Quit with the catsup already!  Anyway, it’s an abbreviation of the Cantonese 蕃茄汁 (tomato ketchup).


Confusingly, the name kumquat comes from the Cantonese for tangerine. The kumquat is C. japonica and the tangerine is C. tangerina.


A delicious fruit with a soft, white, fragrant pulp. Did I mention that it’s delicious?

Mu Shu

Mushu – a Disney dragon and a Chinese meat dish!

A method of serving meat, primarily pork. Scrambled egg, wood ear mushrooms, day lily buds, ginger, garlic, scallions, soy sauce and rice wine are usually involved in the Chinese variant and, optionally, bamboo shoots may also be used. I would be inclined to use bamboo shoots because they’re delicious. Mushu is also the name of the dragon in Disney’s Mulan.

I could go on and on, but that’s enough for now. There are a wealth of words in English that have Chinese origins, and more than enough for another post at least.

So for now, Kung Hei Fat Choi. Go enjoy some Chinese food and Chinese tea.

x Rebecca


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