Chinese Corner

An Egg Tart by Any Other Name2 min read

Delicious loanwords in Cantonese – Rosalyn Shih

Cantonese has quite a few loanwords borrowed from English that have slipped into everyday usage. The best example is probably dik1 si2 的士 for “taxi,” hence people saying daa2 dik1 打的 for “hail a cab” as far north as Beijing, where it’s Mandarinzed as dǎ dī 打的. Chinglish is also pretty standard, especially among trendy teenagers and work colleagues, who might say “send go3 email bei1 ngo5 laa1 (sendemail卑我啦) for “send me an email.”

The biggest number of loanwords has to be for imported foods. The Cantonese-speaking region of southern China – Guangdong Province, Hong Kong and Macau – is stereotyped for its fondness of eating everything from snake to civet cat, but we’ve embraced Western food too. Many of our names for those foods are also imported, and it’s safe to assume that many of those words originated during Britain’s rule of Hong Kong, before making their way to the mainland.

Chris Patten enjoying an egg tart handover. (Wen Wei Po via Disappearing Hong Kong)

My favorite Hong Kong snack, the egg tart (daan6 taat1 蛋撻), mixes the native dan for egg with the loanword tat for tart. The Cantonese word may have come to us from Macau, which in turn inherited the pasteis de nata from their Portuguese colonizers. Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s last British Governor, had such a fondness for egg tarts that he earned himself the nickname Fat Pang (Fei4 Paang4 肥彭).

Here are some other tasty loanword imports to Hong Kong:

Chocolate: zyu1 gu1 lik1 朱古力

Coffee: gaa3 fe1 咖啡

Salad: saa1 leot6 沙律

Strawberry: si6 do1 be1 lei2 士多啤梨

Cheese: zi1 si6 芝士

Toast: do1 si6 多士

Hamburger: hon3 bou2 baau1 漢堡包

Sandwich: saam1 man4 zi6 三文治

Salmon: saam1 man4 jyu4 三文魚

Curry: gaa3 lei1 咖喱

Whiskey: wai1 si6 gei2 威士忌 ∎

An earlier version of this post first appeared at the Anthill. Featured image via Kansir and used under terms of Creative Commons license. Cantonese transliterations are in jyutping.