chow, 1847

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Sun Oct 30 04:35:08 UTC 2005

On Fri, 28 Oct 2005 18:36:35 EDT, James A. Landau wrote:

>In a message dated Thu, 27 Oct 2005 18:28:38 -0400, Benjamin Zimmer
>_bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU_ (mailto:bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU) writes:
>chow-chow, n. and a.
>[According to Col. Yule, =91pigeon-English=92;  of uncertain origin.]
>1. n. A mixture or medley of any sort; e.g. mixed  pickles or preserves.
>Also, food of any kind. Ind. and  China.
>I know this isn't really my pidgin, but I am suspicious of the above
>"pigeon English".

Well, all it tells you is that this is one of those early-in-the-alphabet
entries that still has remnants of the original OED1 text. (I'm guessing
the etymological note dates to the early days of OED1, but the defs were
at least partially updated for OED2 since there are cites from 1945 and
1957.) Through the late 19th century, "pigeon" was a common variant for
"pidgin" (in fact, the cites for "pigeon" predate "pidgin").

"Col. Yule" is another clue that the etymological note is of OED1 vintage.
That would be the primary author of the great Anglo-Indian dictionary
_Hobson-Jobson_: <>. It
was first published in 1886, revised in 1903, and was the authoritative
source on Asian loanwords a century ago. (It still holds up pretty well

As for the phrase "pigeon English", OED2 has it with that spelling from
1859 and with "pidgin" from 1876. The entry for "pidgin"/"pigeon" should
be updated for OED3 pretty soon, but in the meantime here are antedatings
from Making of America:

        * pigeon English
        Train, George Francis
        An American merchant in Europe, Asia, and Australia.
        New York, G.P. Putnam, 1857.
        (p. 101)
        On every side of you, Pigeon English - that horrible
        jargon of multilated baby talk which custom has made
        law - meets you. From boatwomen to shopmen - house boy
        to compradore - you hear nothing else. I endeavored to
        get a copy of Hamlet's soliloquy, which was translated
        into Pigeon English, but I have failed to do it. I can
        only remember its commencement.
        "To be or not to be" reads: "Can - no can."

        * pidgin English

        Tileston, W. M., "Tea Leaves"
        Overland monthly and Out West magazine.
        Volume 3, Issue 6, Dec 1869, pp.539-544
        (p. 539)
        The "pidgin English" which followed, was too much
        for our untutored intellects to comprehend.
        (p. 543)
        We asked Ah Lum to translate one of the songs for us;
        but the effort to put the words of one of his native
        poets into "pidgin English" was too much.

--Ben Zimmer

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