Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Talkee True?

Check out this hilarious and fascinating excerpt from a 1932 copy of Shanghai's Cathay Hotel Magazine which lists some essential pidgin English phrases that all colonials could use to communicate with their native underlings. Language really is an amazingly flexible thing. Stuff like this makes me want to retrain as a linguist - well, that and burn my passport.

Elaine Chow at Shanghaiist makes the point that several pidgin English phrases have entered common usage in the Western World, among them "Long time no see (好久不见)" and "no can do (不能做)". To Elaine's list the expression "chop chop" should probably be added. It didn't occur to me at all that this (rather odd) turn of phrase has its etymological roots in colonial-era China.

1 comment:

Nicky Gardner said...

Hey, wonderful account, Graham. Makes me quite warm to Colin Thubron (heavens, are there really folk on this planet who've never heard of Frommers or the AA)?

Interesting that you dub Colin Thubron England's greatest living travel writer. Definitely one of the finest, nicely combining literary flair with topical currency. But my vote might go to Jonathan Raban.

Nicky
editor / hidden europe magazine