Thursday, December 11, 2008

Chop Chop

This is a random, mid-week thought. I've been thinking about the etymology of the word chopsticks, particularly when i remember my time in Ghana. English is the official language, but most people speak several of the other 80+ dialects as their first language. The resulting English is a slangier version more like Pidgin English. It's easy enough to understand, but there are some words they just don't use. Like instead of "eat", everyone says "chop", as in "Hey Kwami, we go chop small together". I never thought much about it, and probably assumed it was from chomp, which associates with chewing food, and mystery solved.

But now, this word returns and i wonder about chopsticks. Certainly it makes sense if chop has the same root meaning in both situations. But why would two different cultures with little connection arrive at this? England, Australia, and the US, don't regularly say this, so i can't believe it is an obvious English translation. And it isn't.

The answer lies in the root of the Chinese word for chopsticks, kuaizi, which literally means something like "fast things". Hence "kuai kuai" roughly means "hurry up!". That's a big step towards understanding the roots of "chop chop", which is Pidgin English originating from "kuai kuai", with an equivalent meaning.

Long story short, the chop i learned in Ghana really does translate to the chop of chopsticks, but you have to know the chinese kuaizi to make the connection. I don't know why yet, but arriving at this connection makes me happy, and i needed to share.


No comments: