Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Chinese-American Slur in the Armor

So you know how you’re supposed to keep an open mind when you’re confronted with the ways of another culture and not just immediately assume that your way is right and their new, different way is so clearly wrong? Keep that in mind as you read the following paragraph.

Hey, guess what they apparently call Chinese takeout joints in England? According to Wikipedia: Chinkies, at least in certain circles. (Shitty ones.) The term actually doubles as the name of the establishment itself as well as what you’d call the meal you purchase there. You’d stop at the chinky to pick up a chinky. (Makes sense, right?) That is, of course, unless you’re one of those rare chaps who insists on calling the establishment a chinky chonky, which is both cuter and more awful. Huh. Now, to my ears, these people sound like assholes. And yet I’m wondering how the rule about withholding judgment on the ways of others applies to a situation where the national custom, as it’s been explained to me, is flamingly racist. On one hand, who am I to criticize a culture that I’m not part of? On the other, that’s fucked up.

Having learned this awful information, I felt motivated to look into the word chink, an angry, stupid, offensive word for Chinese people — and, if you’re feeling especially ignorant, any person of Asian descent. I was surprised to learn that authorities on the matter don’t generally presume that it must come from a mispronunciation — intentional, ignorant or otherwise — of Chinese or China, the nationality and nation that the term slanders. This etymology is proposed by many sources, Etymonline among them, but two others are suggested: an alteration of Qing, the name of the Chinese dynasty, and simply the English word chink, meaning “split” or “crack” and having no connection to any word distinctly Chinese in origin. And that last term, when used a slur, plays off the Western perception that Asian people have smaller-than-normal eyes, a concept that even today some people have a hard time believing is false.

It's just so weird to me to consider that a slur for a given people, chink, could bear such a strong resemblance to the correct word for these people, Chinese, and that the resemblance would only be coincidental. Then again, maybe that resemblance is what made the word popular enough that some people — awful, stupid people — would still be using it today.


  1. As a British person, I feel I should point out that the only people would would call it a "chinky" are a) very old people or b) colossal pricks. Admittedly Britain has its share of both of those groups, but the majority of people just call it "a Chinese". Going to the Chinese to get a Chinese, etc.

  2. Well, that's good to hear. I didn't mean to imply that the term was used by all British people, but I can see how the post might have read that way.

  3. The other way around, the British consider the word "spaz" deeply offensive, but in America, it's an entirely acceptable way of abbreviating "spasm" or referring to clumsiness. Wikipedia blames the split in usage on a BBC children's show called "Blue Peter" with a character suffering from cerebral palsy.