In the comments to my post on napoo, xiaolongnu mentioned the expression chin-chin, which I would have placed in the same WWI era and soldierly milieu (major raising glass of claret: “Chin-chin, old chap! Drink up, the Boche await!”); it turns out it goes back much farther than that. The Hobson-Jobson entry begins:

CHIN-CHIN. In the “pigeon English” of Chinese ports this signifies ‘salutation, compliments,’ or ‘to salute,’ and is much used by Englishmen as slang in such senses. It is a corruption of the Chinese phrase ts’ingts’ing, Pekingese ch’ing-ch’ing, a term of salutation answering to ‘thank-you,’ ‘adieu.’ In the same vulgar dialect chin-chin joss means religious worship of any kind (see JOSS). It is curious that the phrase occurs in a quaint story told to William of Rubruck by a Chinese priest whom he met at the Court of the Great Kaan (see below). And it is equally remarkable to find the same story related with singular closeness of correspondence out of “the Chinese books of Geography” by Francesco Carletti, 350 years later (in 1600).

The William of Rubruck citation takes the expression back to the thirteenth century:

1253.— “One day there sate by me a certain priest of Cathay, dressed in a red cloth of exquisite colour, and when I asked him whence they got such a dye, he told me how in the eastern parts of Cathay there were lofty cliffs on which dwelt certain creatures in all things partaking of human form, except that their knees did not bend. . . . The huntsmen go thither, taking very strong beer with them, and make holes in the rocks which they fill with this beer. . . . Then they hide themselves and these creatures come out of their holes and taste the liquor, and call out ‘Chin Chin.'”—Itinerarium, in Rec. de Voyages, &c., iv. 328.

The first evidence the OED finds for English is cited from Hobson-Jobson (I believe that’s what “Y.” means):
1795 M. SYMES Embassy to Ava 295 (Y.) We soon fixed them in their seats, both parties.. repeating Chin Chin, Chin Chin, the Chinese term of salutation.
And these illustrate characteristic twentieth-century use:
1929 J. B. PRIESTLEY Good Compan. II. vii. 439 Chin-chin, Effie my dear, and all the best for Xmas!
1938 HEMINGWAY Fifth Column (1939) I. ii, Downa hatch. Cherio. Chin chin.
1962 ‘M. INNES’ Connoisseur’s Case iii. 34 Going on your way, are you? Well, chin-chin!
1967 P. JONES Fifth Defector iv. 36 Two glasses appeared, with ice tinkling in the Scotch. Paul raised his, smiling. ‘Chin chin.’
For etymology, the OED says only “Chinese ts’ing ts’ing“; this is annoyingly vague both as to “dialect” and meaning—they should really add characters to at least the online edition. Does anyone have more detailed information about the Chinese use of this phrase?


  1. Well, in Cantonese, “ching” (pronounced more or less tsing or tseng) and in Mandarin, “qing” (not too different in pronunciation) these words mean “please”, and it is often used in the sense of inviting someone to do something, like “ching yam” would be please drink, “ching yap leih” is please come in, etc.
    Now, usually people drop the verb and just say “ching” to mean “please drink” or “please follow me” etc.
    Furthermore, in Cantonese they double up many words for certain expressive effects, so that might have contributed to the double “ching”, or “chin” as well.

  2. And compare ‘chop chop’ (hurry up), from Chinese pidgin English (the OED now gives k’wâi-k’wâi, but I’m sure I read somewhere else tsiap-tsiap).

  3. You can search for “qingqing” with:
    Mandarin “kuai” corresponds to “faai3” in Cantonese, so no idea where “chop” comes from.

  4. (Y.) should mean one of the authors of Hobson Jobson, Col. Henry Yule.

  5. Yes, I know it stands for Yule, but I presume when it’s used in the context of a citation like that, it means the citation is from Hobson-Jobson.

  6. on “chopstick” says:
    Pidgin English chop, quick (probably from Cantonese kap; akin to Mandarin jí) gives results including:
    急 キュウ ji2 jiek4 kip4 gib4 kip6 gap1
    whose character seems mostly likely to match the meaning.

  7. Hobson-Jobson is quite wrong in taking the history of the expression “chin-chin” back to William of Rubruck, as the “chin-chin” in his story is a completely different word to the later “chin-chin” that derives from Chinese qing qing 請請. William of Rubruck’s “chin-chin” (or “zinzin” according to Francesco Carletti) is a representation of the Chinese word xing xing 猩猩 (a type of ape, but in modern Chinese the word for orang-utan). See here for further details.

  8. Jimmy Ho says

    Ng, as in yong jiu da xingxing 用酒打猩猩.
    caffeind, I am a bit skeptical about 急急 (Cantonese geb geb in the pinyin-based transcription) a the sole origin of “chop chop”. There is the rhyme and the rhythm, and of course jiji appears in many expressions (my personal favourite is the bureaucratic-exorcistic jiji ru lüling 急急如律令) but the initial consonant seems too different to my badly informed ears. I don’t know anything about the formation of Pidgin, but would a mixed origin taking in account both the meaning and onomatopeic value of the English verb “to chop” be plausible? As in
    Ayo swing swing swing, to chop chop chop
    Yo that’s the sound when MCs get mopped
    Don’t come around town without the hip in your hop

    (A Tribe Called Quest, “Keep It Rollin'”, Midnight Marauders).

  9. Jimmy Ho says

    This is far from satisfying, but I remember you linking to Le Monde‘s editors’ blog (something about “vavavoom”, if I recall correctly), and they happen to have posted this two years ago: Tchin-qing!
    Nothing new, just a quote from Pimpaneau explaining qing… [gesture]! qing! 請… 請…

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