Our main entry today concerns English words borrowed from Chinese. But first is presented a word about the Chinese character for ox, voiced in Mandarin Chinese as nee-oh (2) and seen below.
A Note about this Chinese Character & Word
It means ‘ox’ or ‘cattle.’
The ancient form of the character looks more like an ox.
It is also a Chinese last name.
Some of its meanings are: ‘ox, cattle, moo-cow and stubbornness.’
The character can be voiced as a plural form. Nouns in Classical Chinese have no number.
So it could mean ‘ox’ or ‘oxen.’
The voicing of this character in Mandarin is nee-oh (said with Tone # 2), so that some Chinese scholars posit that the Mandarin word is onomatopoeic, that is, it is an imitation of the sound of an ox lowing or of a cow mooing.
This Chinese character, borrowed, is the sign for bull, cow, ox or any bovine creature in old Korean and modern Japanese.
All use the same Chinese symbol.
. . . from the internet:
Contrary to illiterate presupposition, only a tiny percentage of Chinese characters are today actual pictograms or ideograms. In other words, the letterless dingalings who glance at Chinese characters and say, “Look, Mommy, look at all the pretty little stick pictures!” are quite ignorant of any true knowledge of Chinese.
Among the English terms borrowed from the Chinese language are several containing dai and tai, dialect forms of ta which means ‘great’ or ‘big’ in standard Chinese.
Tycoon 名 大君
Tycoon, borrowed through its Japanese form, taikun, itself borrowed from Chinese = ta ‘great’ + kian ‘prince’, with the adoptive meaning of ‘great prince of commerce,’ that is, ‘wealthy merchant.’
A ‘banana typhoon’ bends palm trees on the island of Palau.
A cumbrous jumble of tongues contribute, in a sort of historical glossolalic vortex, to our word typhoon.
The chief influence is the Cantonese word tai-fung, for standard Chinese ta fêng ‘big wind.’
But appearing earlier in print is the Urdu tufan ‘a violent tempest of wind and rain,’ a word signifying the typhoons of India and summer storms on the China Sea. Since Urdu borrowed words from Persian and Arabic, some etymologists suggest tufan arises from an Arabic noun like tawafan ‘violent twisting or whirling’ from the verbal root tafa ‘turn around.’
But Persian, Arabic and Urdu forms could all be borrowings from the name of a much earlier Greek wind monster, Typhon (too-FOON), a primitive Greek god of the winds.
Tai Chi (Ch’uan) 太極拳
Tai Cantonese ‘great’ ‘extreme’ + ji ‘limit’ ‘source’ + ch’uan Cantonese for Chinese quan ‘fist.’
This Chinese martial arts-like system of calisthenics combines physical power with internal meditative power. Legend says tai chi arose in the Sung dynasty (960 - 1279 CE), invented by a priest.
A Japanese actor playing a daimyo, in black cap, occupies centre stage.
Daimyo = dai (tai, ta) ‘great’ + myo (mio) ‘name’
This is technically a Japanese word encountered in reading the history of Japan. But since it is a direct borrowing from Chinese and includes our word for ‘great,’ I toss it in here, as they say in New Orleans, for verbal lagniappe.
Daimyo was an honorific title of the warlord rulers of feudal Japanese clans, used for 1,000 years until early in the nineteenth century. One of these booty-rich daimyos often became shogun, supreme military commander of Japan.
One Chinese word has winged its way around our green-blue sphere and entered almost every language spoken on earth, and that is one or another version of the Chinese word for tea. As we sip the amber steepings of our teapot, whether it be an exquisite YiXing pot fired of true China clay or a plain Brown Betty teapot of Bradell Woods clay near Stoke-on-Trent in England — such as the stubby BB sitting on my kitchen table in Dunnville, Ontario, Canada — few of us know that we are sipping an infusion of camellia leaves.
The common tea plant is Camellia sinensis ‘Chinese camellia.’
The best etymological note on the origin of the word tea is from The Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition, 1989:
[= F. thé, Sp. te, It. tè, Du. and Ger. thee, Da., Sw. te, mod.L. thea; ad. (perh. through Malay te, teh) Chinese, Amoy dialect te, in Fuchau tiä = Mandarin ch'a (in ancient Chinese prob. kia); whence Pg. and obs. Sp. cha, obs. It. cià, Russian cha, Pers., Urdu ch (10th c.), Arab. shy, Turkish chy. The Portuguese brought the form cha (which is Cantonese as well as Mandarin) from Macao . This form also passed overland into Russia . The form te (thé) was brought into Europe by the Dutch, prob. from the Malay at Bantam (if not from Formosa , where the Fuhkien or Amoy form was used). The original English pronunciation (te), sometimes indicated by spelling tay, is found in rimes down to 1762, and remains in many dialects; but the current (ti) is found already in the 17th c., shown in rimes and by the spelling tee.]
Island Beauty Hibiscus Teapot
茶 World Words for Tea (from Wikipedia)
The Chinese character for tea is 茶 , but it is pronounced differently in the various Chinese dialects. Two pronunciations have made their way into other languages around the world. One is tê, which comes from the Amoy Min Nan dialect, spoken around the port of Xiamen ( Amoy ). This pronunciation is believed to come from the old words for tea 梌 (tú) or 荼 (tú). The other is chá, used by the Cantonese dialect spoken around the ports of Guangzhou (Canton), Hong Kong, Macau, and in overseas Chinese communities, as well as in the Mandarin dialect of northern China. This term was used in ancient times to describe the first flush harvest of tea. Yet another different pronunciation is zu, used in the Wu dialect spoken around Shanghai.
The derivatives from tê
The derivatives from cha or chai
A YiXing teapot (pronounced yee-shing) is the essential tea-brewer’s tool, made of the famous purply-red zisha clay found only in the Jiangsu province of China. Legend says that a Ming dynasty (1368-1644 CE) cook, Gong Chun, invented the teapot method of infusing tea leaves.
And so, wordlovers all, in the coming Year of the Ox, ride what you have learned today into the capacious stable of your knowing.
© 2009 William Gordon Casselman
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