The Most Common Chinese Loanwords in English
The Most Common Chinese Loanwords in English
Chinese Culture,Pop Culture
17/09/2021

We’ve brought you a blog before on the development of loanwords in Chinese, however we’re conscious that this was a few years ago. One great thing about learning languages is how quickly they can evolve and that highlights the importance of regular, little-and-often, study to ensure you’re not getting left behind! With that in mind, we thought we’d bring you up-to-speed on some Chinese loanwords in English. Are there any that you’re familiar with?

Before we begin, it you’re wondering how to say loanwords in Chinese it’s 外来词 (wài lái cí).

Our Latest Chinese Loanwords in English

  1. This year has been a great one for loanwords, think of how widespread the greeting ‘Happy “Niu” Year’ was this year. This would be a half-English-half-Chinese (semi-loan?) loanword, but we still think it’s pretty cool how widely it was received!
  2. You know it’s an occasion when the Hongbao are coming out! Hongbao are red envelopes (usually containing money) that are handed out particularly at Chinese New Year, but also at other auspicious occasions such as weddings.
  3. Typhoon is another English word that has its origins in Chinese language. The word comes from the Chinese 台风 (tái fēng).
  4. Zen or the state of Zen comes from the Chinese word 禅 (chán). Zen is a school of Buddhism that originated in China during the Tang Dynasty. Fun fact: the word Zen derives from the Japanese pronunciation of Chinese character 禅.
  5. Ginseng – 人参 (rén shēn) – is a herbal root used widely in Chinese medicine. Literally, the word in Chinese means ‘man root’.
  6. The term Feng Shui literally translates as ‘wind water’ and has been documented as used in English since the 1700s. It claims to use energy forces to harmonise individuals with their surrounding environment – both manmade and natural.
  7. Ying and Yang, Chinese 阴阳 (yīn yáng), are the two balances in the universe in Taoist philosophy. The Ying is the dark force and feminine, whereas the Yang is the light force and masculine.
  8. Who doesn’t love a Shih Tzu? Shih Tzu are Tibetan toy group dogs and the word in English finds its roots in Chinese language.
  9. Tofu comes from the Chinese 豆腐 (dòufu), meaning bean curd. Where would we all be without our Mapo Tofu? Yes please…
  10. Gung Ho! The word Gung Ho is thought to have entered the English language from Chinese during the Second World War. It comes from 工合 (gōnghé), short for 工業合作社 (Gōngyè Hézuòshè), Chinese Industrial Cooperative Societies (CICs). Interesting, right?

Have we missed any Chinese loanwords in English that you have learnt recently and think should have made our list? Reach out to us on our social channels to let us know, or contact us using the website form!

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