English words come from a lot of different languages, such as Greek, Latin and French. Today, let’s learn about five common English words that come from China!
The word “tea” comes from the word “t’e” — the word for “tea” in a Chinese language spoken in southern China.
The Dutch introduced us to this word. Dutch traders bought tea leaves from southern China and sold them around Europe. They called the leaves “thee” based on the Chinese word for it, and in English, it became known as “tea.”
The word “ketchup” most likely also comes from a language spoken in southern China. “Tchup” is the word for “juice” or “sauce” in a few languages there.
Interestingly, “ke” doesn’t mean “tomato.” It most likely meant “salted or pickled fish.” This is because ketchup was not commonly made from tomatoes until the 1800s.
You can learn more about the history of ketchup in this Daily News article: “Ketchup: America’s Condiment has an Asian Connection.”
If you’re “gung-ho” about something, you are very interested or excited about it. The word is also sometimes used to describe things that seem aggressive or are related to fighting, weapons, or war.
Gung-ho comes from Chinese but has a different meaning from the original phrase: “industrial cooperative.”
We don’t use “gung-ho” to mean “work together” in English anymore. However, this phrase still has an energetic feeling, probably because it was first used to talk about people working together to help their country win a war.
Like gung-ho, “brainwash” entered the English language during a war – this time, the Korean War.
“Brainwash” is a direct translation of the Mandarin Chinese word “xi-nao” (“washing brain”). During the Korean War, Americans commonly believed that China captured US soldiers and then tried to brainwash them.
Later research found that there is not much proof supporting this belief, but the term stuck.
The word “kowtow” in Chinese literally means “knock your head (on the ground).” Traditionally, people would kneel on the ground and touch it with their forehead. They would do this when they wanted to show a lot of respect to someone, such as when worshiping the gods or addressing the emperor.
You can get an idea of it from the following video:
In English, "kowtow" has a negative meaning. English speakers say that someone is “kowtowing” when they think that person is trying too hard to please someone, are too obedient, or are giving in to unreasonable demands.
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