legend of kung-fu

Paul Frank paulfrank at POST.HARVARD.EDU
Wed Apr 28 19:11:10 UTC 2010

On 28 April 2010 17:20, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at gmail.com> wrote:
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> Sender: Â  Â  Â  American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster: Â  Â  Â  Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject: Â  Â  Â legend of kung-fu
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> Another ex. of the diverting belief that curious foreign words in English
> are the result of an Englishman's obtuse misunderstanding of a native's
> remark. (Captain Cook and "kangaroo" feature in the best known of these
> fanciful stories.)
> 1994 Terence Dukes _The Bodhisattva Warriors_ (Boston: Weiser) 488: Â KUNG
> FU...A Chinese term literally meaning  "a workman" (syn., "coolie") used
> also to describe their activities. Mistakenly applied to _Chuan Fa_. Use of
> this term was popularized by the Victorian British Traders in China who,
> when enquiring about demonstrations by persons doing Chinese Boxing were
> told that this is what it was (i.e., hard work). The humor was unrealized.
> JL

Kuli (è‹¦å ›) does indeed mean strenuous effort or hard work in Chinese,
and over the past century and a half or so it has also meant laborer
(i.e. coolie). But according to the Grand dictionnaire Ricci de la
langue chinoise (7 vols., Paris-Taipei, 2001), the second meaning
comes from the Hindi kûli or qulî. Other dictionaries agree.


Paul Frank
German, French, Chinese > English
Huémoz - Aigle - Neuchâtel, CH
paulfrank at post.harvard.edu

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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