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Word for the Wise December 27, 2006 Broadcast Topic: Chopsticks

A friend’s question about the origin of chopsticks sent us looking up the business end of pidgin English. (来源:老牌的英语学习网站 http://www.EnglishCN.com)

The form of speech known as pidgin English usually has a simplified grammar and a limited, often mixed-language vocabulary; it developed (and was originally used) in Chinese ports, principally for intergroup communication, such as business between speakers of different languages. The word pidgin is itself a Chinese modification of the English word business; to get ourselves back to the business at hand, we’ll point out chopsticks owes its place in our lexicon to the existence of pidgin English. In Pidgin English, chop means fast (think chop-chop, meaning "quickly; without delay") and chopsticks refers to those slender sticks with which users deftly lift food to their mouths.

English speakers know chopsticks by that name, but how are they known in China, where they were invented more than three thousand years ago? Try this: in Mandarin Chinese they are known as kuai zi, "quick little fellows." Japanese chopsticks are known as hashi; Vietnamese tools as dua; Thai sticks as takiap, and Korean implements as jeotgarak (literally, chopsticks-stick).

Native chopstick users probably already know this, but those who pick up the sticks later in life may be relieved to learn that the etiquette rules governing the proper wielding of the sticks are as varied as their names.

 
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