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#1 2010-05-11 16:03:23

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2119

chopped sticks << chopsticks << "quick boys" in Chinese

Our children weren’t around this weekend, so for Mother’s Day I took my wife out for lunch in loco liberis. We went to a Thai restaurant.

We weren’t given chopsticks with our meal. Here in Canada we don’t get chopsticks when we eat at restaurants that take their Thai cuisine seriously. Chopsticks aren’t used much in Thailand, I’ve been told.

While I was musing on the missing utensils, I began to think about the word itself. I could hear in “chopsticks” the Chinese word for “quick.” It’s one of the few Chinese words known to most English speakers–we have taken it into English in the pidgin phrase “chop-chop,” slang for “hurry up.” Oddly, I prefer chopsticks with Asian food because they slow down a meal, not because they speed it up. Anyone, though, who has watched a true chopsticks athlete will realize that the link between my eating speed and the utensil is based entirely on my lack of skill.

When I got home from the restaurant, I looked up the etymology of “chopstick.” The word was adapted from a Chinese phrase that sounded a bit like the English word. The Chinese phrase meant “quick ones” or “quick boys.” If those who use the word “chopstick” import the semantics of chopping up food into “chopstick,” we may be looking at a cross-language eggcorn.

A more obvious eggcorn is the permutation “chopped sticks.” You can see a score of examples here. The motivation for the switch to the past participle “chopped” could be the blunt, chopped off ends on the small sticks or the shortness of the sticks in comparison with the bamboo cane that is their source. Perhaps we have in “chopped sticks” that rare bird, an eggcorn of an eggcorn (like, says David B, the word “eggcorn” itself.).

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