Victor Mair has another of his thought-provoking and informative posts about Chinese at the Log; this one is called Fried scholar’s and begins with the discovery that shìde 士的 on a Chinese menu, which looks like it should mean “fried scholar’s,” was actually a Mandarin borrowing of Cantonese si6 dik1 and meant ‘steak.’ He goes on:
The usual way to say “steak” in Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) is niúpái 牛排, and that expression is also used in Cantonese, where it is pronounced ngau4 paai4. But si6 dik1 士的 (“steak”) is also used very commonly in speech and even, as on restaurant menus, in writing. This is a good example of how a parallel vocabulary develops in Cantonese and other Sinitic languages: one based on indigenous morphemes, and one on loanwords.
Cantonese has been especially prolific in borrowing words from other languages, and many of these words (I’ll mention a few of them below) have entered the standard MSM lexicon. Shanghainese has also borrowed many foreign words directly via their sounds (“clamp,” “captain,” “last car,” etc.), and these too have often passed into the MSM lexicon. The same is true of other topolects that are not normally written (or are not wholly writable) in Chinese characters. In contrast, MSM is more apt to create loan translations for new terms and ideas that enter the language from abroad through calquing or through recycling (by redefinition) of old words (e.g., the MSM words for “philosophy”, “religion”, “economics”, “literature”, and so forth). When the latter (recycled and redefined words) pass through Japan (China –> Japan [where the redefinition takes place] –> China), we may refer to such loans as “round-trip words”.
It is curious that, if we reverse the order of the characters for si6 dik1 士的 (“steak”), we get dik1 si6 的士 (“taxi”), one of the most successful Cantonese borrowings in the entire Sinitic lexicon. In MSM, 的士 is pronounced díshì (doesn’t sound much like “taxi”), but people know what it means, and they even use it comfortably and flexibly in expressions such as dǎ dì 打的 (“strike [i.e., take] a taxi”), dígē 的哥 (“male taxi driver”), and díjiě 的姐 (“female taxi driver”). In fact, díshì 的士 (“taxi”) prevails over the clunky trisyllabic neologisms based on native morphemes, chūzū chē 出租車 (lit., “vehicle for rental” — mainland usage) and jìchéngchē 計程車 (“vehicle that computes / calculates [the distance of a] journey” — Taiwan usage).
There’s more at Mair’s post, and of course in the comments; I find this sort of complexity in what is supposed by the authorities to be a unified language, and the borrowing of the officially disfavored Cantonese loanwords by the majority language, endlessly interesting.