Chinese Loanwords

7 English Words that come from Chinese

I love loanwords! Loanwords are words that are taken from one language and used in another. Every language has them and English (probably) has the most, with pretty much all its words originally coming from somewhere else.

In this video, I’m talking about my seven favourite loan words and phrases that originally come from Chinese, but are now used in everyday English.

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1. Long time no see (好久不見)

This is a common greeting in English translated literally from Chinese. We can use it anytime we see someone whom we haven’t seen in a long time.

“Dave? Wow, long time no see! You look great.”

2. No can do (不能做)

Another phrase that comes word-for-word from Chinese. In English, it’s a casual, friendly-sounding way to say you can’t do something.

“Can you help me open this jar?”

“No can do. I have a bad arm at the moment.”

3. Brainwash (洗腦)

Comes literally from the Chinese meaning (wash brain). In English, we use this when people are forcibly indoctrinated to believe something. 

“School brainwashed my children into thinking education is good!? I can’t believe this!”

4. Gung-ho (工合)

This comes from a longer phrase in Chinese about working together. In English, it means you are very enthusiastic and energetic.

“That guy has a real gung-ho attitude.”

5. Kowtow (叩頭)

Coming from Cantonese, meaning literally “knock head”, this English verb is used when you are overly subservient to another person. It’s similar to the much more casual term “brown-nosing”.

“Those employees have to kowtow to their managers.”

6. Lose face (丢脸)

Another one that’s translated literally “lose face”. This is related to a concept in China where reputation is very important. When something damages your reputation, you lose face.

“He was caught stealing from his workplace and now he’s staying at home because he’s ashamed. I can’t believe he lost face like that.”

7. Typhoon (颱風)

This word is similar in many languages, and refers to a large storm. Interestingly, the word we use changes depending on where the storm is. East Asia has typhoons, the rest of the Northern Hemisphere have hurricanes, and Oceana has cyclones.

Do you have any English loanwords in your language?

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