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Dr. Goodword
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Postby Dr. Goodword » Fri Jun 07, 2013 12:12 am

• chow •

Pronunciation: chæw • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. (US Slang) Food. 2. (Australian slur) Derogatory name for Chinese. 3. Breed of Chinese dog resembling a Pomeranian (also Chow-Chow).

Notes: This odd little word has a rather shady history, but today it is an acceptable if slangy word for "food" in the US. It may also be used as a popular verb in the US military with the verbal particle down, to get in the chow line to chow down.

In Play: Keep in mind that this word is slang, to be used in colloquial conversation only: "Hey, mom, I've been raking leaves all morning and need a little chow before I can go on." Chow is such slang that it has avoided figurative use altogether—until now: "Chick Pease reads comic books all the time; he calls them 'chow for the mind'."

Word History: Today's word is a reduction of chow-chow, a fruit or vegetable relish originating in China. Chow was already being used as a slang synonym for "food" in 1856 out in California. Chow-chow is a reduplication of Mandarin Chinese tsa "mix, mixed", and refers to the mixed food in chow-chow. The dog breed of the same name dates from 1886. Some suggest a link to a Chinese tendency to see dogs as edible; however, it might just as well have come from the Chinese word gou "dog". (We are always happy when Chris Stewart of Johannesburg feeds us excellent Good Words like today's.)
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Perry Lassiter
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Re: Chow

Postby Perry Lassiter » Fri Jun 07, 2013 12:43 am

Chows do somewhat resemble pomeranians, but are three or four times as large. When I was a kid, we had a big red chow in our area which would bite if you approached him. The word was all chows are like that, although I've seen beautiful beast on tv dog shows.

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Re: Chow

Postby LukeJavan8 » Fri Jun 07, 2013 11:53 am

We have an eatery here called: "The Chow House", not
Chinese by a long shot, just another of those "greasy spoons".
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Re: Chow

Postby Philip Hudson » Sat Jun 08, 2013 12:58 am

I did not know chow (the food kind) was of Mandarin origin. Are you sure? I was always told it was Cantonese. Wiktionary goes for a Cantonese origin. The Mainland Chinese government pretends that Cantonese is a "dialect" of Mandarin which is "pure" Chinese. They do this to try to fool themselves and the world into thinking that China is culturally, racially and linguistically homogenous. It isn't.

Americans say a word is Chinese and I am not sure what that means. There is no Chinese language. There are MANY distinct languages in China. There are dialects in China. One might argue Taiwanese is a Mandarin dialect. Mandarin is the official language of China and of Taiwan but some of my Asian friends speak only Cantonese and English.

In America we are free to use the word "dialect" in its (except in China) universally accepted meaning. I have tried several Cantonese words on Mandarin speakers and they have no idea what I am saying. My Cantonese students understand me. I do not actually speak either language but my students do. Very few Chinese I know speak both Cantonese and Mandarin. The Cantonese want to keep their language but there is a linguistic pogram against them in China.

The wide currency of Chinese writing is called a myth by some of my Asian friends. The characters of Chinese writing vary among languages of China. They also vary widely throughout history, even recent history. One could say that written Chinese consists of dialects and not be far from wrong. Some Chinese people aver that the writing in China is uniform throughout the country. My Chinese frends say there is a little brainwashing going on here.

It may be that the word chow for food is not related to the Chinese word chow at all. It is suspicious that the word chow is very like chaw, a variation of the English word chew. This has been noted in at least one of the sources I have consulted. It is totally possible that two words have different sources even if there is a similarity in definition. I know Chinese people who are named Shiny and Young. These are their Chinese names and their "American" names at once.

Chow and chow-down have been in our slang vocabulary for just over half a century. Chow almost replaced grub amongst some Red Necks for a while. I have a chow-chow recipe that comes from the Early 1900s, antedating chow and chow-down.

If you like Southern food, the condiment chow-chow might interest you. Do not! I repeat. Do not buy chow-chow from a market! It is mostly slop made of cabbage. I do not know if our recipe for chow-chow is a family secret or not. I do know it fills the house, perhaps the entire block, with alarming "aromas" during the two days it takes to make it. But once it is made, it is pure Southern ambrosia. A Southerner couldn't have New Years dinner without a generous dollop of chow-chow on her/his black-eyed peas.

On the other it is hard to imagine the word ketchup coming from a not at all similar Indonesian condiment, or a Cantonese condiment, or not.
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