Origin of “chow”
Posted: 06 December 2008 08:44 AM   [ Ignore ]
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The original list states that this word is of “unknown” origin.  Not true.
The word in Chinese, roughly meaning “to stir-fry” or cook is “ch’au” pronounced as “chow.” “Ch’au-fan” means “fried rice.”
(How do I know?  I was a Chinese linguist for the Air Force.)
Regards,
Tony

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Posted: 06 December 2008 10:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Tony: Welcome to the board!  I’m afraid your experience translating for the Air Force does not qualify you as an etymologist.  Chow in this sense is shortened from chowchow, a slang term of unknown origin.  The Chinese word you refer to does not mean ‘food’ but rather ‘to sauté quickly in a wok or frying pan,’ and as far as I know it is not used in reduplicated form ("chao-chao’).  It may have had an influence on the English term, or it may not; we’ll probably never know.

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Posted: 06 December 2008 07:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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"Chow-chow” also meant a mixture or miscellany of things in general, comparably early, I think. Therefore one can hypothesize (only hypothesize!) that “mixture” is the primary sense, specialized to food in the sense of mixed dishes such as typical Chinese mixtures with rice.

Here is an example dated 1788 from G. Books: //The _Chinese_ dressed their portion [of fish] differently, making a mixture with rice, and other things, which they call _Chow Chow_.//

Incidentally, MW3 speculates “perhaps from Chinese (Pekingese) _chiao3_ meat dumpling”. I wouldn’t bet on this myself.

One might look for a candidate etymon like “chow” in (likely southern) Chinese meaning “mixture"/"hodge-podge" or so. The reduplication (apparently in Pidgin) may or may not have been present in the Chinese original.

[ Edited: 06 December 2008 07:23 PM by D Wilson ]
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Posted: 06 December 2008 09:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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A little earlier, in French, 1768 [this ed.] (from G. Books):

_La Balance Chinoise_, p. 116:

//Sur le Chapitre de l’éducation je n’ai rien trouvé en Suisse de supportable: c’est un _Chau-Chau_ (*), je veux dire un Salmigondi des manieres d’Allemagne, d’Italie & de France. / [footnote:] (*) Sorte de mets Chinois composé de Viande de Cochon & de Poule , & relevé de Soya ou liqueur Salée connue actuellement en Europe.//

Here “chau-chau” is used to mean “mixture”, but the word is said to denote a Chinese pork and chicken dish.

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Posted: 07 December 2008 06:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Right, it’s a perfectly reasonable hypothesis, but the difference between a reasonable hypothesis and a nailed-down etymology is immense, which is what I was hoping to convey to Tony.

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Posted: 09 December 2008 11:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Before WW2, in England, I recall, we occasionally saw (as a great treat) porcelain jars filled with ginger pickled in syrup; there were also mixed fruits pickled in syrup, likewise in porcelain jars (like that dead warlord in Kirosawa’s “Kagemusha: the Shadow Warrior"). The mixed fruits were called “chow chow”.  Don’t know a term for “pickled warlords”. How about “General Sweetmeats”?

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Posted: 10 December 2008 02:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Post-WW2 as well, Lionello: I remember a blue-and-white jar of “Chow Chow” in the house one Christmas in my early childhood, around 1960. It was still an exotic treat.

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Posted: 17 December 2008 01:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I guess the proper spelling of chow-chow nowadays is something along the lines of zho-zho ;-)

[ Edited: 17 December 2008 01:29 AM by Pavlos ]
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Posted: 17 December 2008 05:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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zho-zho

Not likely. It would either be chao chao or qiao qiao in Pinyin. The sounds represented by ch and q are different phonemes: the former is an aspirated voiceless retroflex affricate [ʈʂʰ] and the latter is an aspirated voiceless alveolar-palatal affricate [tɕʰ].

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