Lo Fan

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sun Apr 3 07:24:00 UTC 2005

>Just a note that neither the OED nor the AHD has the word "lo fan" (white
>person) listed. It is (or was) very common among Cantonese-Americans, even
>when speaking English.

I've seen "gwai lo" (with spelling variants) most often in this application
myself, in Cantonese in books. I heard "fan gui" long ago in 'Mandarin'
IIRC, along with "yang gui zi" etc. These are along the "foreign devil" line.

"Lo fan" apparently has a folk etymology among the Canto-speakers:
sometimes it's claimed that the "fan" is the conventional "fan" = "rice"
referring to the prototypical lo-fan's white-rice-like skin color; I
believe the "fan" must actually be another word meaning
"barbarian"/"foreign" (as in 'Mandarin' "fan qie" = "foreign eggplant" or
so = "tomato"), which is distinguishable from the "rice" word in standard
Cantonese by tone (says the book). [Anybody knowledgeable, please fill me
in if necessary.]

-- Doug Wilson

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