Friday, January 16, 2009

chopstick etymology

1699, sailors' partial translation of Chinese k'wai tse "fast ones" or "nimble boys," first element from pidgin Eng. chop, from Cantonese kap "urgent." Chopsticks, the two-fingered piano exercise, is first attested 1893, probably from the resemblance of the fingers to chopsticks.

to explain more clearly: english sailors heard the cantonese word "kap" (fast), and spoke it as "chop," a chinese-english pidgin word. i don't know if they learned this word on its own and then applied it to "chopsticks," or they learned it through "chopsticks" first.

even now, one occasionally hears someone say "chop chop!" to mean "hurry up." well, ok, i am not sure when i have heard that said -- but somewhere. . .hm, was it "flower drum song," the musical from the 50s? Anyway, it entered my brain somewhere, somehow.

1 comment:

Kristl Tyler said...

I say it. In fact I said it today and was worried that I was saying something racially insensitive. Here's what happened.

I work on a database team of 10 people. We have one woman who is Chinese and moved here when she was in high school. Not terribly fluent but she gets by and is super sweet and loves to laugh.

We also have a Vietnamese guy who is totally Americanized. He serves as a cultural advisor on all things Asian.

I was saying to the Chinese girl “Hurry Up!” because we needed to go to a meeting and then I clapped twice and said “Chop! Chop!” as a joke. An Anglo male progressive teammate glared at me and I said “Is that racist? OMG!! That’s not ethnic is it?” I explained to Sheri about how it was used in my house growing up. I said – “Do they do that in China?” she said they clap and say “Hurry Up” I asked her to say Hurry up in Chinese and she said it and it sounded nothing like “Chop” then I asked the Vietnamese guy and it sounded nothing like “Chop” in Vietnamese either.

I hoped to get the girls from Disgrasian to research it for me but I don't think they will so I googled "etymology 'Chop!Chop!' to mean hurry up" and here you are, answering my exact question. Thanks so much.