Printable Version
Pronunciation: chæw Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. (US Slang) Food. 2. (Australian slur) Derogatory name for Chinese. 3. Breed of Chinese dog resembling a Pomeranian (also Chow-Chow).

Notes: This odd little word has a rather shady history, but today it is an acceptable if slangy word for "food" in the US. It may also be used as a popular verb in the US military with the verbal particle down, to get in the chow line to chow down.

In Play: Keep in mind that this word is slang, to be used in colloquial conversation only: "Hey, mom, I've been raking leaves all morning and need a little chow before I can go on." Chow is such slang that it has avoided figurative use altogether—until now: "Chick Pease reads comic books all the time; he calls them 'chow for the mind'."

Word History: Today's word is a reduction of chow-chow, a fruit or vegetable relish originating in China. Chow was already being used as a slang synonym for "food" in 1856 out in California. Chow-chow is a reduplication of Mandarin Chinese tsa "mix, mixed", and refers to the mixed food in chow-chow. The dog breed of the same name dates from 1886. Some suggest a link to a Chinese tendency to see dogs as edible; however, it might just as well have come from the Chinese word gou "dog". (We are always happy when Chris Stewart of Johannesburg feeds us excellent Good Words like today's.)

Dr. Goodword,

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