Tuhao: Everybody’s Saying It

Several recent articles about the possible addition of the Chinese word tuhao to the English dictionary piqued my curiosity—what other words should the English language attribute to Chinese? The Oxford English Dictionary contains about 1,000 words of Chinese origin, including well known words like yin and yang and kung fu. Usually a period of time (about 10 years) must pass to make sure the particular word has staying power, and isn’t just a fad, but Oxford is considering including tuhao in its very next edition in 2014.

What exactly does tuhao mean? In French, they say “nouveau riche.”

土豪 (tŭ háo): bling, flashy, and ostentatious.


Apple’s newest iPhone 5s sold out in the gold color just a day after pre-orders were made available in China. Photo credit: Ashok Govind

CNBC’s story gives us several good examples of tuhao: “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” are tuhao. Covering the inside of your Rolls-Royce with jade is tuhao. Or, the most popular use, the new gold iPhone 5s is now known in China as the “tuhao gold iPhone.”

waygo translation tuhao

Waygo’s current translation of tuhao.

tuhao google translate

Google Translate’s translation of tuhao.













5 Other English Words Originating from Chinese

1. Ketchup: Many people believe that the word “ketchup” is derived from a Chinese term for pickled fish brine. In the 17th century, the Chinese mixed pickled fish and spices and called it  kôe-chiap (Xiamen accent) or kê-chiap (Zhangzhou accent).

鮭汁(guī zhī in Mandarin or kôe-chiap/kê-chiap in the Amoy dialect): the brine of pickled fish. Literally, 鮭 (salmon) and 汁 (juice).

2. Gung ho: A favorable adjective in the English language, gung ho is used to describe someone with dedication and a can-do attitude. The term can be traced back to the Chinese word “gong he,” which is shortened from the term for working cooperatives created in China in the 1930s. “Gong he” was first adopted by American marines based in China, and found its way to the U.S. with a modified pronunciation.

工合 (gōng hé): To work together, or to describe a person that is overly enthusiastic.

3. Chop Chop: This term is said to originate from the Cantonese term 快快 (kuài kuài).

筷 (kuài): to hurry.

筷子 (kuàizi): Chopsticks. Note that kuài became “chop” for not only the term chop chop, but for chopsticks . Check out our blog post about chopsticks if you’d like a brief history of chopsticks.

Chop chop appeared in English-language newspapers printed in China by foreign settlers as early as the 1800s.

4. Feng shui: The practice of designing an object or making a scene aesthetically balanced. Literally, 風水 (fēng shuĭ) means wind (風) and water (水), aspects that need to be considered in order to make a feng shui enviornment.

5. 关系 (guān xi): Guanxi means connections or relationships. Similar to the English expression, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” guanxi is crucial to business and society in China.


Challenge: Can you create a sentence using all 5 Chinese-English words?


A Parting Joke
A young man asks a Zen master: “I’m wealthy, but unhappy. What should I do?” The Zen master replies: “Define what you mean by wealthy.” The young man answers: “I have millions in the bank and three apartments in central Beijing. Is that wealthy?” The Zen master silently holds out a hand. The young man says: “Master, are you telling me that I should be thankful and give back?” The Zen master says: “No. Tuhao, can I become your friend?”

This popular joke reveals that although the tuhao is disliked, people want to share the tuhao’s welth. In fact, “Tuhao, can we be friends?” is quickly becoming a saying in China.

Thanksgiving china joke

Photo credit: PP Martin


In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we hope you remember to be thankful for all that you have in life, tuhao and not tuhao.