Did You Know These Words Come From Chinese?

You may already know more Chinese words than you think!


Besides dim sum or bok choy, words that were obviously borrowed from Asia, there are a lot of Chinese words that have assimilated into the English language. Some are so perfectly disguised that you would never have guessed they are from Chinese. Here are 9 examples! 

  1. 1 Paper Tiger (纸老虎)

    "Paper tiger" is a literal English translation of the Chinese phrase zhǐlǎohǔ (纸老虎/紙老虎). The term refers to something or someone that claims or appears to be powerful or threatening, but is actually ineffectual and unable to withstand challenge. The expression became well known internationally as a slogan used by Mao Zedong against his political opponents, particularly the U.S. government.

  2. 2 Brainwash (洗脑)

    A calque of the Chinese word 洗脑, the word was first introduced to the English language  after the Korean War, when Western media sources first used the term to describe the attitudes of war prisoners returning to the U.S.

  3. 3 Ketchup (茄汁)

    The work ketchup was borrowed from the Cantonese word 茄汁 (literally tomato sauce or tomato juice). Another theory says the word was borrowed from Hokkien, another Chinese dialect in which the word has a similar pronunciation. The first usage of this word could be traced back to as early as 1690.

  4. 4 Tycoon (大君)

    Coming from the Sino-Japanese word taikun (大君), meaning "a great gentleman",  the word was first used in the late 1800s when Japanese culture was first encountered by AmericansInterestingly, the word was  later brought back to China and was translated as 大亨, a word now commonly  used in newspapers and magsines in the Chinese-speaking world,

  5. 5 Coolie (苦力)

    The English word "coolie" and the Chinese word 苦力(kǔlì), meaning "to exert one's abilities; heavy labour work" in Classical Chinese, are cognates with almost identical pronunciations. The word originated in South Asia in the 17th century and meant day labourer, but since the 20th century the word has been used in that region to refer to porters at railway stations.

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Phoenix Hou


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