Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submitlogin
Tea if by sea, cha if by land: Why the world only has two words for tea (qz.com)
788 points by ValentineC a year ago | hide | past | web | 317 comments | favorite

It can also refer to food like lunch or dinner which the danish school system did not prepare me for in their english lessons, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tea_(meal)#Tea_as_the_evening_...

That Wikipedia section needs a rewrite. It does mention that that usage is a class marker but then conflates it with the pastry-and-tea afternoon snack practice of upper classes. They are two radically disjoint uses.

The origin of the “tea” being the term for evening meal are pretty well attested to lie the poverty of the English lower classes who could not afford much more than a cup of tea in the evening.

I grew up using the word “tea” to refer to the evening meal in Australia (actually my parents were at pains to avoid this usage, but the rest of my dad’s family still does). My father, the only one in his family to attend university, clearly saw it as a dangerous class marker.

Interestingly my mother grew up using a chai language (Marathi) in the home but te languages (Cantonese and Fujianese) in the street. These usages of course were all for the drink.

(And btw your comment was funny to me because on of the all time greatest linguists of English was a Dane, Otto Jesperson).

I'd never heard of this before. Growing up in rural Scotland, meals were always "Breakfast", "Dinner" and "Tea". There was sometimes confusion with other people over whether dinner was a midday or evening meal, but I'd never thought much of it until now.

I'm also originally from rural Scotland (around Tomintoul), for us it was "Breakfast", "Dinner" and "Supper".

Upon moving to the central belt, and ingratiating myself into more middle class circles of friends I then discovered:

Breakfast - eaten usually when you get up in the morning, say early morning until ~1030am

Lunch - eaten from 12pm until ~2:30pm

Afternoon Tea - taken from around 3:30pm until 4:30pm (cakes/biscuits [cookies] and would also include some kind of sandwich - often cut into triangles)

Tea - 5pm until 6pm - usually a lighter two course meal (say an omlette) and some pudding (desert).

Dinner - taken from 7pm until perhaps 9pm - this would be a fully laiden two or three course meal.

Supper - taken from around 10pm until around 11pm (or just before bedtime) - likely cheese on toast or crackers & cheese and a cuppa.

Obviously you don't need to have every one of these meals every day of the week.

I see where Tolkien got his inspiration for Hobbit meals...

A bit further south, Yorkshire in England, but yea the language is the same there.

He's actually missing out elevenses and brunch.

In spanish I think all countries agree on at least: desayuno (breakfast), comida (lunch), cena (dinner) as the three basic. But we also have merienda and almuerzo which get different times and portions depending on country.

And there can be other terms of course. In Guadalajara, México, where I live, schools say "hora del lonche" (lunch time) to the midday meal.

'Desayuno, comida y cena' is how people refer to the main meals in the Dominican Republic, 'almuerzo' is also used to mean lunch but mostly in formal settings. I also just asked a Colombian friend and he says 'comida' is mostly used to refer to dinner, and 'almuerzo' for lunch.

Edit: He also says 'cena' is a more formal, less common way to refer to dinner.

Lunch is most commonly "almuerzo" in my experience, with some variation. I think there are some Europeans and perhaps pockets of Latin Americans who use "comida" to refer to either lunch or dinner as a meal, while most people use it to refer to food in general. Dinner is "merienda" in some places, while many others reserve the common "cena" for dinner and use "merienda" to refer to an afternoon snack.

Interesting. In Puerto Rico, comida meant food and almuerzo meant lunch.

My kid's learning Spanish in school and she learned: desayuno, almuerzo, cena.

Google translate translates lunch first as almuerzo and second as comida if you try it.

What about second breakfast and elevenses?

In the North of England and Scotland it's usually Breakfast, Dinner, and Tea. If you go down South it's Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner.

And sometimes if you're really lucky you'll meet a Southerner who'll freak out about it, "Ha! You said 'dinner' but you meant 'lunch'!! Ha! Ha! When do you eat your lunch?! Ha Ha!!"

I had an old boss that did this regularly. The dick.

We usually have one main meal, and another that is lighter and more like a snack.

If you have the main meal in the middle of the day then it is called "dinner". The snack you have at the end of the afternoon is "tea".

If you have the main meal at the end of the afternoon it is "dinner". The snack you eat in the middle of the day is "lunch".

The difference probably depends on if you go home for a meal at mid-day or not. The later is probably more traditional as people used to work or study much closer to home. And there was somebody around during the day to prepare a meal. But nowadays going home for a main meal in the middle of the day is unusual so we all just have a small snack.

It can be confusing when other languages get added to the mix, because they don't necessarily follow that convention. E.g. in Russian, you traditionally translate the main meal of the day as "dinner" in English - but it's actually eaten early in the afternoon (usually around 1pm), so it's more like lunch in that regard, and honestly should probably just be rendered as such. I often found that whenever I would refer to "dinner" in my conversation, my (native English speaking) friends would automatically assume the end-of-the-afternoon meal; and the idea of having a dinner with colleagues implies some sort of highly formal event.

On the other hand, the after-work evening meal is usually less heavy, and is rendered as "supper" in English. And, again, I find that Americans usually assume that it takes place much later than it normally does, and is also much lighter than it normally is (basically a snack rather than a proper meal), if I use that word.

So clearly there is some implicit time-of-day mapping there.

Thanks, that was very informative.

I was always told that dinner (from "dine") is the main meal of the day. So if you have a 'fancy' afternoon meal that can be your dinner (e.g. we usually do Christmas dinner between 3 and 4).

I wonder if HN knows of a linguistic map for meal names, it appears that these words shift meaning a lot.

EDIT: I thought this was interesting -- "Harvard's Dialect Survey had the question, 'What is the distinction between dinner and supper?' Here's the geographic distribution of their results from 10,661 American respondents" https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/22446/lunch-vs-d...

The slightly snooty Daily Telegraph style guide:

"Christmas lunch is what most of our readers would eat, not Christmas dinner. Use the latter only if referring specifically to an evening meal."


(Being slightly facetious) This confirms my suspicion that the Telegraph caters to a very small minority:


Also this:


Even in Southern England (Cambridge), I don't think I've ever heard the phrase "Christmas lunch".

If you're ready for Christmas dinner at lunchtime there was something wrong with Christmas breakfast.

I find this particular stuff fascinating.

In spanish you have 3 distinct meals, 'desayuno' 'almuerzo' and 'cena' mapping strictly to a moment of the day, more or less 'breakfast' 'lunch' and 'dinner', with the option of a merienda (roughly 'tea' but usually just sweet food like cookies or some such) between lunch and dinner. Each of this happens on a specific moment of the day (morning, noon, the optional afternoon thing and well into nighttime).

Are there other languages/dialects where the word maps the importance of the meal instead of the actual time it is consumed?

I don't think it's as easy as geography, it depends on your parents upbringing too.

One other great British-English question is "what do you call an individually portioned baked bread article" ... roll, barm, bap, cob, ...

Scottish git here....rolls (or maybe morning rolls if posh). But where I'm from in Scotland you'd ask for "softies" otherwise you'd get a slightly harder well-fired roll if there was a choice.

Or "How do you pronounce 'scone'?"


In my part of the world (Nova Scotia, Canada), "dinner" often means either lunch or the largest meal of the day. When planning for Christmas dinner I've found myself asking, "Lunch dinner or supper dinner?"

I grew up in England and it was similar. Growing up Dinner was the hot meal using taken in the middle of the day either at school (dinner ladies), or at work (I imagined hot meals servers in factories or canteens). And tea (teatime!) was cold/lighter possibly taken with tea, essentially late afternoon tea, followed by supper later in the evening. Pretty sure it’s still like this in many places.

At some point dinner transitioned to lunch and teatime to dinner for us.

There is tons of disagreement about this stuff, as it varies so much region to region, but in general, in most English peaking places:

The three meals are "Breakfast", "Lunch" and "Supper". And if Lunch or Supper is the biggest/most formal meal of the day it may be called "Dinner" instead. Hence family "Christmas Dinner" may be at lunch time, but your "Dinner party" is in the evening.

I have only encountered “supper” as the name of a primary meal in parts of the USA. I think “breakfast, lunch, dinner” likely is the most widespread formulation. I never heard “supper” in Australia or Canada at all.

Its all highly regional, but I believe my characterization is an accurate generalization. Checkout the "Word Origin and History for X" for:

1. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/supper 2. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/dinner

Interesting side note, Sup (verb) the root word for supper has been in the (old) English language since before 900 AD.

FWIW, I was taught "breakfast", "dinner", "supper" at school, and their English courses were supposed to closely follow British usage (although I'm not sure which regional dialects, if any specific ones, they tracked in practice). We were taught "lunch" as well, but it was treated more like a second breakfast.

Thanks, I was always confused about why people talk about having "Thanksgiving Dinner" in the early afternoon and now it makes perfect sense.

We (USA) say breakfast, lunch, and dinner, though my grandparents would say supper instead of dinner sometimes. I wonder where/when the split occurred.

Same here (also USA). My parents (born 1930s) say breakfast, lunch, dinner. My grandparents (born 1900s) said breakfast, dinner, supper. My grandmother asserted that her usage was more proper.

I think you’ll find supper in common usage in the US but always as the same meal as dinner which is the evening meal.

Dinner is definitely most common near me but I wouldn’t blink if someone asked me over for supper or said it’s supper time.

In farms in Ireland its typically Breakfast - Dinner - Tea. Where your main meal of the day (dinner) is around 12-1pm and the evening meal (tea) is light. Your occasional cup of tea before bed is supper.

Outside of farming people have their main meal (dinner) when they come home from their office in the evening. So the lighter meal in the afternoon becomes lunch and theres no tea.

Interesting! Never heard anyone use "tea" to describe the evening meal. Tea refers to the light meal at late afternoon, after lunch and before the evening meal (dinner) at my place, seems to be same as the "common" usage.

BTW, Cantonese is actually a "chai language": the character 茶 (tea) reads like "char" as in charcoal, without the h sound and in a low tone.

In Ireland people would traditionally have had breakfast, then dinner, then tea as the three meals. Now that only happens in the country or on Sundays.

My grandparents (Scottish) use "afternoon tea" for the light meal you describe, and the evening meal is interchangeably "tea" or "supper". Confusingly, the lunch meal is "dinner".

I knew there was a heavy class difference here, but apparently there's also substantial regional difference even within the British Isles.

You're the second person to say that their grandparents use breakfast/dinner/supper. Here's the other comment: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16134094 - note that the author is from US!

Now I'm really curious, because breakfast/dinner/supper is what I was taught in school, English being my second language. And I also very quickly found that it doesn't match common usage in any of the countries I've been too... but I thought that it's because of an attempt to better reflect the times of the meals in translation that backfired. Now it sounds like they were basically just teaching us English circa first third of the 20th century?

In standard American English, dinner always refers to the main meal of the day. In traditional agrarian contexts, the meals were breakfast, dinner, and a light later meal called supper. Supper is related to the word soup and is therefore similar in connotation to the North English/Scottish use of tea to refer to a later light meal by the name of one of its (potential) components.

The shift over time from breakfast, dinner, and supper to breakfast, lunch, and dinner primarily reflects changing socioeconomic realities rather than some fundamental lexical shift.

I think breakfast/dinner/supper was standard usage among my extended family in Alabama -- I have to say "was" because I haven't been there since the early 1970s, but I wouldn't be surprised if it hadn't changed.

What do you mean by “without the h sound” ? “Charcoal” doesn’t have an h sound as far as I can tell.

The first syllable in charcoal reads "tʃɑ:" in IPA. I was referring to the "ʃ" sound, formally the "voiceless palato-alveolar fricative" according to Wikipedia.

So, a “sh” sound, right?

They probably mean voiceless alveolar affricate, similar to "zz" in Italian pizza.

> It does mention that that usage is a class marker but then conflates it with the pastry-and-tea afternoon snack practice of upper classes. They are two radically disjoint uses.

Yep, that looks like a serious mistake. My impression is that 'tea' or 'high tea' describes an all-class, or primarily lower class, nighttime meal. "Afternoon tea" describes the ~4 PM snack with sweet pastries instead of a primary meal.

A bit of investigation says that our mutual impression is correct, but complicated by Scotland, where "high tea" may be served with the size and timing of "afternoon tea" but with heavier, savory dishes on offer.



This is so interesting! So your mom grew up in a Marathi family in Guangdong?

No, in Ipoh, Malaysia, where there were (unsurprisingly) few Maharashtrians, though plenty of Tamils and Sikhs due to te British Empire. Mostly Chinese people though so she needed to communicate in Marathi, Hokkien (Fujianese), Cantonese, and Malay. Then the country was (re-)invaded; the Japanese had schools (pretty much only for Indians) and taught them Japanese; after that the English came back and she learnt English.

In fact, though I also use three languages, the only one she and I have in common is English. Though I learnt some Marathi as a kid it was just how to read and how to talk about family relations (so limited in the European languages!) and food. We were in a part of Australia that hadn't yet heard that the White Australia laws had been abolished so speaking anything but English, even in your own home, was Very Bad, and emphasized your wog status.

I run into Mumbaikars and Punekars all the time here in the bay area but most are Hindi speakers.

That's amazing!

That is such a weird combination.

Most Maharashtrians I know from the previous generation (including my parents) are from Maharashtra, and Maharashtrians have somewhat of a reputation for not wanting to leave Maharashtra.

The Pune I remember from my childhood was a nice, if quiet place with lots of trees, and the wonderful Deccan climate so I can understand not wanting to move.

Now it's become just another huge city IMHO.

I know, right?

Tea is cha in Cantonese, not te.

As a Londoner who moved north, it continually confuses me too.

"What are you having for tea?"

"Oh, err... just milk thanks"

In French, dejeuner, meaning literally breakfast, used to mean just that. But the nobility was used to getting up so late that dejeuner became lunch, diner became the evening meal, and they invented the 'petit dejeuner' to name the breakfast. In southern France and rural areas, dejeuner remained breakfast, dinner the mid-day meal, and souper the evening one. Miscommunication ensues :)

In Québec and French Canada in general déjeuner/dîner/souper kept its original meaning too!

The word 'dîner' also meant breakfast!

Wiktionary says: dîner, From Old French disner, from Vulgar Latin *disiūnāre, from disieiūnāre, disjejūnāre (“to break the fast”)

People say “dejeuner” to mean breakfast a lot. But everyone knows that it is also not correct (we always this kind of people that will correct people on that)

But it is correct. The Parisian-imposed usage is obviously faulty :)

Well thing is, in Paris, you often skip the breakfast, so the real moment where you're breaking the fast is during lunch.

Being a Sri Lankan immigrant to Australia, I say dinner, lunch and breakfast. But I always was familar with tea being meal in England. I though it was something I got from my Noddy and William books. But actually, it might just have been an Australian thing that I was reading into othose books.

When I acutally went and lived in London, I learned that it was a northern thing. Which is odd, because in other ways Australia seems to be dominated by London culture. Or at least Australians talk like Londoners.

Yeah, and dinner being used for lunch while tea is used for dinner. Not confusing at all.

At least you know where you stand with supper, right?!

Yeah, and with breakfast, cause that's always in the morning ... like a nice afternoon wedding breakfast.

Well, that depends. In Scotland, "supper" generally means "with chips".

I remember the lunches I used to have back in primary school up in Scotland; instead of having a school dinner, you used to go down to the chip shop, and their 'lunch' was a bag of chips, and you got a free potato fritter. So it was essentially a bag of chips, with a really big chip.

Frankie Boyle

And which meaning of "chips"?

I don't think it has much to do with being a Londoner; I'm one too (native and resident), yet have used the "breakfast → dinner|lunch → tea" sequence my entire life.

In Portuguese that happens with the word for coffee.

Asking someone during the morning if they had their coffee, means if they had taken the breakfast.

Ahem, my English book certainly featured a story about a worker kid coming home from school and having some kind of grub "for tea" at 5 pm, i.e. food with tea as the drink.

My understanding was that this usage referred to a meal eaten in the evening, i.e. not lunch. Your link seems to confirm that.

My grandmother used to serve tea for the evening meal when there were no guests other than her little grandson. But that's the only Danish example I personally know of. Don't know why, tea is not a bad drink for a meal.

To be clear, "tea" in almost all cases doesn't imply the meal will be served with tea. It's just a name for the evening meal in the north of England.

As a kid in Sheffield I understood it as 'dinner' was your hot meal whenever you might have it, and tea was a lighter meal. So many kids had a hot meal at school (school dinner) and then went home for tea.

As a Norwegian in London, I still find it weird that my sons school serves "school dinner" around lunch-time. Even though the Norwegian word for dinner is "middag" which literally means "middle of the day" (though nobody uses it in that meaning any more, since it would be very confusing given that "middags-tider" "dinner-time" is pretty consistently late afternoon/early evening)

As an American in Norway, I still find it weird that warm lunches aren't a normal part of the school day. Then again, I remember school lunches. The kids aren't missing much.

Then again Norwegians have Frokost as breakfast time, whilst Danes have Frokost at lunch..

From an Australian heritage, I would say that dinner and tea were, more or less, used interchangeably. Some families used one, some the other, but pretty much everyone understood both. Over time I get the feeling that dinner was the winner in that choice war, but that might just be an east coast/west coast thing.

My upbringing was middle-class, my dad taught for a time in Sheffield - tea just meant "evening meal" and was probably always a larger hot meal than was served at school dinners.

In South Wales they talk about "cooked dinner" which is a roasted meat meal, usually chicken for Sunday lunch, but can be any time of the week. Presumably that harks back to families having lots of uncooked meals (through poverty).

I should have clearer, I meant the roots of the phrase 'tea'.

That said I used to confuse some very northern friends by talking about dinner as my evening meal. They literally only thought of dinner as lunch and the evening meal was only called tea.

I think the roots were from when only the father of the house had a cooked evening meal, and everyone else had tea and sandwiches or similar. But that was distant past I believe.

Tea is the evening meal in most places outside of London, isn't it? It certainly was to me and my friends who grew up in Wiltshire, and going by my (admittedly poor) memory the only people I can think of who don't call it tea grew up in or near London.

as someone who grew up on a farm in country Australia "tea" was the evening meal every night. A "cuppa" was the drink of tea - whenever someone was visiting the house.

It was the same for me, growing up in rural Australia in the mid-70s and 80s. However, my parents were working class raised in Sydney.

I am not sure this is universal for Australia and may also not be the case now.

I'm fairly certain my neices and nephews (mostly teenagers now), no longer call the evening meal tea.

When I was growing up in North East Scotland "dinner" was the lunch time meal and "tea" was served at about 5:30pm.

At the U.S. Naval Academy, the nomenclature for meals is quite literal: morning meal; noon meal; evening meal. [0]

[0] https://www.usna.edu/Student-Life/Daily-Schedule.php

In Russian, you invite people "for a cup of tea", which really just means "come be my guest", not any particular meal.

In American English, if you invite people "for a cup of tea" then someone is getting cups, hot water and tea bags, and not any meal at all.

Nor the American school system for me. ;)

I'm no Chinese expert, so somebody correct me if I'm wrong, but I've found that the Chinese word 茶 (cha) doesn't always necessarily mean tea, but can refer generically to a number of different brewed drinks. e.g. barley tea (大麥茶), ginger tea (薑茶), golden oats tea (燕麥茶), etc. all of which translate to tea, but often contain no tea leaves. It may seem like a nitpick, but when you're in China and order what you expect to be a ginger flavored tea, only to receive a cup of hot water with chopped ginger at the bottom, the distinction can be important. That isn't to say you can't simply order 茶 in China and receive what you would expect, as long as you're expecting green tea. Likewise, if you simply order tea in England, you'll likely receive what the Chinese call 紅茶 (red tea). So in my mind, the words aren't exactly equivalent and I wonder how much the different variations of tea and cha relate to themselves and each other.

Edit: Applied jpatokal's correction.

Reading your comment I'm a bit confused about what your point is. Even in English tea doesn't necessarily mean a drink brewed in tea leaves, which you presumably know since you yourself say:

> e.g. barley tea (大麥茶), ginger tea (薑茶), golden oats tea (燕麥茶), etc. all of which translate to tea

You call all of these things tea (and I would call them all tea too), so I'm not really sure why you say that cha doesn't necessarily translate to tea.

I have heard some people argue that "tea" refers only to things made using the plant Camellia sinensis (e.g. black tea, green tea, white tea) and everything else (e.g. rooibos) is a "tisane".

Never heard "tisane" being used by anyone.

Most of the people in the US don't seem to care much about the distinction between infusions containing tea leaves and infusions that don't (when it's not just tea leaves); those who do, would often ask whether it's a caffeinated "tea" or not (infusions containing tea leaves usually contain caffeine).

Personally, I prefer to use the term "herbal infusion", because it unambiguous and relatively widespread.

However, in common usage people will say "herbal tea", both in English and Russian, even when aware that the tea plant is not in the mix. It seems like the crusade for "tea/chai" meaning something brewed from tea leaves is not only doomed, but has been lost before the West started to drink tea.

Tisane probably comes from French, where it is relatively common (at least understood, and a stickler for tea would correct your usage) and perhaps one would use it in English like other French culinary terms like “à la mode”

Wiktionary says it went

English <- French <- Latin <- Greek


Interesting that in English it starts with the "tea" sound, but has a completely separate origin (I don't think the ancient Greeks were even aware of Chinese tea...)

I've never heard "tisane" before, but it seems to mean "herbal tea". In which case, I've seen that distinction before also. ("Tea" having the actual tea plant, and "herbal tea" being any other plant-based brew.)

A better example might be 肉骨茶 (pork bone broth) which isn't even a beverage.

Anything else is a herbal tea or tisane.

Ginger tea in India is a sweet, milky tea with camellia sinensis and ginger for flavour.

There are similar words in English. My favorite example is Pudding, which can mean anything from black pudding (a sausage), to yorkshire pudding (a bread) to plum pudding (a dessert)

source: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/what-brits-talk-about-...

And (as covered in the article, but bears repetition), confusingly also in many areas simply means the dessert course. You can have apple pie for pudding.

Yorkshire being a good example: you can have Yorkshire pudding as part of your main course, and then pudding afterwards (but sometimes might have Yorkshire pudding as pudding).

Are Yorkshire puddings bread? I've never thought of them as such.

They are made from batter rather than dough, which I think disqualifies them as bread. On the other hand, corn bread and banana bread are also made from a batter, so you could call Yorkshire pudding a bread based on those. If I really wanted to assign them to a more common category than pudding, I would say they are a cake.

lol, in German we only have one word for batter and dough.

Tea is also used in the same way in the West for example Rooibos, mint, and chamomile are all popular “herbal teas” that don’t contain any tea leaves.

So one thing that a lot of people, including the author of the article, may not realize is that Chinese 'dialects' aren't really dialects. They are each different languages spoken by different ethnic groups, kind of like how Spanish and Italian are different languages but still related. These different languages are called dialects mainly for political reasons, with the main one being unification. It's useful to think of China as Europe, unified through force instead of legislation.

Anyways, I'm going to disagree with you. imo 茶 has the same meaning in different parts of China. It's just said differently in differents parts of China just as like it's called different things in different parts of Europe. The only difference is that in China it's written as the same character.

A common saying in linguistics is, “a language is a dialect with an army and a navy”.

What you have described is exactly what happened in Qin dynasty 2000 years ego. Then those languages evolved together and all influenced what is the modern Chinese.

It is funny that this is the reverse process as how Latin evolved into Italian and Spanish etc after the fall of Rome.

The reason that China split and unite again and again is all the dialects/languages share the same characters even sound differently. The phonetic based Latin can easily evolve differently to match the pronunciations of dialects. That's why after Rome collapse there are many new nations and can not unite again.

Nit: Western (black) tea is 紅茶 hongcha, lit. "red tea". Chinese black tea refers to fermented teas like pu-erh, which are not the same thing.

Interestingly pu-erh is often referred to as "red tea" in Western countries.

I've only heard "red tea" used to refer to rooibos tea.

Specifically in Poland: https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pu-erh

Translating the article: Pu-erh (chin. 普洱茶, pǔ’ěr chá) – a kind of tea that is classified as red tea in Poland (black tea in China since the Chinese classify the tea according to the colour of the brew, as opposed to Europeans who classify tea according to the colour of dried leaves).

Ahh, Polish, also one of those outlier languages that doesn't call tea by the two words in the article :)

Same here. I live in San Francisco and to the best of my knowledge, Pu-erh seems to be called just that. “Red tea” is not often said, but I would assume it meant rooibos. (BTW — if you haven't tried rooibos, please do. It is delicious.)

In modern usage you're right, 茶 is used as 'beverage'.

When the character was created (appears in Erya under 'plants', so a very early character), it referred to one of a number of 'bitter herbs,' and linguists think it might have sounded like 'rlya'.

The character is composed of the top part, 艹 (classically written as 艸), meaning 'herbaceous plant' and the bottom part, 余, which supplied the pronunciation 'lya'.

There are two modern characters that come out of this, 茶 (cha) and 荼 (tu); the first one is used for tea/beverage, the second one has been borrowed a lot for its sound but at least one of its meanings is still 'bitter plant'.

Although I don't speak Mandarin I am quite familiar with Oriental culture and my impression is that it means "brew". They have a bewildering variety of infusions, more often than not medicinal, and sometimes I have the impression it means anything with hot water. In fact, its common to just have plain hot water.

My impression (as a heritage speaker) is that cha's usage has simply broadened a bit, in the same way that American English has herbal teas and fruit teas. These also don't contain any tea, and have a different term, tisane. But both cha and tea still primarily refer to, well, tea leaves.

Including the hundreds of different bubble tea.

It’s also used to refer to dim sum in hong kong as in “yamcha” (drink tea) which colloquially means to eat dim sum

I have just realized that I have never heard anything remotely close to "dim sum" when talking about dim sum, in both Mandarin and Cantonese. I've only heard "ying cha" or "yum cha." In fact I had to search up why it's "dim sum" in English just now. It literally means "snack"

At least in Australia, "chai" is on sale in cafes meaning Masala chai, a mix of leaf tea and Indian spices and herbs. And then you've got the "chai latte", like a regular latte but with "chai" instead of espresso.

Amusing weirding of language - it should really be a "masala"!

Same in many parts of the US, except it's taken one step further with "chai tea" - even in big-budget advertisements by chains who should know better.

Seeing or hearing "chai tea" drives my Indian wife up the wall everytime.

I'm the type that gets triggered by people who enter their "PIN number" into an "ATM machine," so I can relate.

+1 Would you like some coffee latte with milk and cappuccino with foam with your chai tea latte order :-P

Masala means "blend of spices" "Garam masala" is a blend of hot spices, "chai masala" is meant for making tea, In the US, Chai usually refers to Indian style tea with milk and spices. Source: I've worked with a lot of Indian people.

As an Indian I want to put this on record, the spiced tea is absolutely obnoxious. We do not drink it. There is a different one flavored with ginger or cardamon, which people like and tastes so much better than 'masala chai' sold in US etc.

Indian here too. We do drink masala chai in India (Gujarat).

We have a few who do garam chai with their chai pani, too.

Unless you're talking about movies. :) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masala_film

The call center beverages seen in "Slumdog Millionaire" appeared to me to be some sort of hot milk+tea beverage. At the time based on sources I had already read, I thought this would be spiced. I remember that in the movie, each serving was in a decent size drinking glass of about 10-12 oz and the glass was wrapped with what appeared to be a paper napkin. For some reason this is stuck in my mind.

if you want to argue correctness, it should be "spicy" since Australia speaks english :)

Translate garam masala next. :)

Hot or warm spices? It's a language-weirding in itself that the quality of having spices means that something is hot. Plenty of spices (most, really?) aren't hot.

Too many places, especially in Europe, fail at making spicy food, they just make burning hot (or bland) food.

Except that chai lattes are usually made with sickly sweet syrup, rather than powder.

I must admit though, I do have a soft spot for dirty chai, which is a chai latte with a shot of espresso.

Polish language has "herbata", which is a third one, from herbs.

It comes from "herba thea" (herbal tea) so you could argue that it should still be classified under "tea" origin.

But where do we boil water for "herba-ta"? In "Czajnik" (keetle), where root "czaj" most definately comes from "cha".

Lithuanians call tea as "arbata", and it's boiled in "arbatinis". It also has nothing to do with "herbs". AFAIK, there is no reference to the word tea or cha anywhere in terms of tea.

Clearly, arbata comes from the same herbal tea origin, just the h got dropped somewhere along the way, herb -> arba, tea -> ta

This would appear to be confirmed based on regional dialects from this area.

In the Samogitian dialect of Lithuanian it's spelled "erbata", however the first "a" in modern Lithuanian isn't stressed, so it's very similar. Also in Kashubian (spoken in parts of northern Poland, often considered a dialect of Pomeranian) it is the same as modern Lithuanian.

On the other hand in Sambian Prussian it is "tejs", which is similar to "teja" in modern Lativan. It's interesting how two different forms emerged in the same geographic area.

Sorry, but it has everything to do with herbs. As well as Belarusian harbata, and Polish herbata it comes from "herba thea" as mziel wrote.

And the close neighbors of Romania we say "ceainic" to kettle which does come from the root word "ceai".

In Southern Romania we tend to use "ibric" more, which comes directly from Turkish.

In Transylvania, ibric is just the small pot used to brew Turkish coffee, while a tea kettle is ceainic. The terms don’t overlap.

I recently heard from a Turk that ibrik in Turkish today refers only to the small bucket used for washing oneself in Middle Eastern toilets. For the pot used to brew coffee, they say cezve.

In Poland we also have a word 'imbryk' for a teapot but it is rarely used nowadays.

That's partially true. It's from "herba thea", so basically redundantly added the "herb" part to the common tea name.

Derived from the latin herba thea ("herbal tea").

And in Lithuanian it is "arbata", likely from the Polish "herbata" :)

Poland represent! We also have a word for "woman" that is unlike any other Slavic language.

Polish goes its own way.

Other slavic languages (croatian here) also have that word, similar. It means something different though. It meant (that) something different in polish too. "A bit" offensive, haha.

If you mean "kobieta", from what I understand, it used to be offensive until about the 19th century, but the etymology of it is unclear and contested. I have no idea by what process it ceased to be offensive.

If you don't mind my asking: what word is that? I'm only familiar with žena (I speak some Croatian but not enough to know archaisms)

Kobieta, kobila in croatian meaning mare.

That's not the same word. https://goo.gl/7ZZTrd

The equivalent word for mare is kobyła in Polish. It's unrelated to kobieta.

A steeped beverage from non-tea herbs isn't tea.

This is not true from a language/ word usage point of view. E.g https://www.amazon.co.uk/dandelion-tea/s?ie=UTF8&page=1&rh=i...

Well yes the term tea is used "in the wrong way" a lot and one could argue that it is common enough that it's the right usage these days (language evolves etc.). But technically tea is only from camelia sinensis varieties. So the "herbal teas" should technically be called something else like tisane.

Chinese call herbal teas “liang cha”; the argument that “herbal tea” should not be called tea is a somewhat modern English notion. Other languages freely use tea/cha for infusions of many plants.

Heck, why not argue that any “tisane” not made from barley isn’t a real tisane.

I’m a native (simplified) Chinese speaker and I found it interesting to see the growth of meanings of tea, from originally a kind of bitter vegetable (荼, as 艹 for vegetable-related, 余 from 涂 for muds), to brewed drinks. For instance if you order a cup of 果茶 (lit. fruit tea), you will end up having a cup of hot water with sugar and cut apple pieces and more. The meaning of the “brewed drink” is IMO really pervasive.

There's a more comprehensive version of this story at linguist Dan Jurafsky's web site (it can also be found in the book by Jurafsky mentioned by aniket_ray): http://languageoffood.blogspot.com/2014/08/tea-if-by-sea.htm...

Tea to Japan was certainly not "by land". I know they want to make it into a simple rule, but that's just not as simple as they pretend.

The friendly article notes that both Japan and Korea likely acquired the word long before the Silk Road.

Relevant random factoid: it's possible to tell when many Chinese words were imported into Japan based on the pronunciation, which varies based on where the Chinese capital (and hence the ruling class dialect) happened to be. See "Onyomi" under https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanji.

I somehow missed that part of the article, but that's not true. Tea is cha in Korean and Japanese, and that pronunciation post-dates Old Chinese. (which is why Min Nan is different, as it preserves numerous features from Old Chinese)

Yeah I am aware, I speak Japanese.

And if you're an American in Japan speaking to a Japanese who speaks English they say Chinese alphabet (a literal translation) rather than Kanji (based on my 6 trips there)

Aren't there also some words in Kanji that don't have Chinese origins? Like 硝子 for example?

The Japanese envoys came directly to Xi'an, then capitol of China, and also part of the Silk Road, so they still use the "land" word.

This was during the Heian period of Japan / Tang dynasty of China though, and the spoken language in Xi'an would have been closest to modern day Min Nan. I'm not sure what other dialects pronounce tea as "cha", but modern day Mandarin originated with the Henan dialect during the Song dynasty with heavy influences from Mongolian in the Yuan dynasty and Manchurian in the Qing dynasty, and contains many sounds not present in any other indigenous Han dialects. Japan would have adopted tea long before. However, from what I know of the Japanese language, they have both archaic and modern pronunciations of many words, and perhaps their word for tea may be one of them with the modern form adopted much later.

Exactly and London working class slang for tea is cha, which I always assumed must have originated at the docks.

> London working class slang for tea is cha

This is actually featured in the movie "Bronson", and I was unaware of its usage in the UK until I saw it.

Portugal imported tea from India way before Macau. That was the whole thing of the sea route to India...

Portuguese went to India for the tea? That doesn't sound right at all. Who was importing large quantities of tea to Europe before then? They went there to take the valuable spice trade.

Tea was imported by the Portuguese from China and became popular in Europe after that. The British then started producing tea massively in India to obtain it at a lower price.

From https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_tea

"The history of tea is long and complex, spreading across multiple cultures over the span of thousands of years. Tea likely originated in southwest China during the Shang dynasty as a medicinal drink.[1] An early credible record of tea drinking dates to the 3rd century AD, in a medical text written by Hua Tuo.[2] Tea was first introduced to Portuguese priests and merchants in China during the 16th century.[3] Drinking tea became popular in Britain during the 17th century. The British introduced tea production, as well as tea consumption, to India, in order to compete with the China monopoly on tea.[4]"

Spices were far bigger initially. Black pepper, cloves, nutmegs and mace were the real money makers. Cloves and nutmegs especially, since they only grew natively on a handful of the Molucca islands, and a succession of bloody and exploitative regimes maintained a monopoly on production and export almost into the 19th century.

Cloves and nutmegs may have been somewhat more widespread than just the Molucca islands, although the Dutch and Portuguese did much to try and protect their spice trade monopoly by limiting production to those few islands.

Visiting Mindanao island, in the Philippines in 1686, the Englishman William Dampier observed the following:

"...but the nutmegs this island produces are fair and large, yet they have no great store of them, being unwilling to propagate them or the cloves, for fear that should invite the Dutch to visit them and bring them into subjection as they have done the rest of the neighbouring islands where they grow. For the Dutch, being seated among the Spice Islands, have monopolised all the trade into their own hands and will not suffer any of the natives to dispose of it but to themselves alone. Nay, they are so careful to preserve it in their own hands that they will not suffer the spice to grow in the uninhabited islands, but send soldiers to cut the trees down. Captain Rofy told me that while he lived with the Dutch he was sent with other men to cut down the spice-trees; and that he himself did at several times cut down 7 or 800 trees. Yet although the Dutch take such care to destroy them there are many uninhabited islands that have great plenty of spice-trees, as I have been informed by Dutchmen that have been there, particularly by a captain of a Dutch ship that I met with at Achin who told me that near the island Banda there is an island where the cloves, falling from the trees, do lie and rot on the ground, and they are at the time when the fruit falls 3 or 4 inches thick under the trees. He and some others told me that it would not be a hard matter for an English vessel to purchase a ship's cargo of spice of the natives of some of these Spice Islands."[1]

Whether the trees were truly native to this island, or brought there from elsewhere, is probably not known.

[1] A New Voyage Around the World, William Dampier, 1697, http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks05/0500461h.html

Are you sure? I thought the English brought tea to India after stealing it from China in the 19th Century.[1]

Was there another source in India which the Portuguese had earlier access to? My initial cursory investigation via Wikipedia seems to indicate China as the initial source.[2] I'd be really interested, from an historical point of view, if this wasn't the case.

[1] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3081255-for-all-the-tea-...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_tea#Portugal_and_It...

Charles II, after losing the Battle of Worcester, fled to Europe where he stayed for nine years [1][2]. There he discovered tea. He also discovered Catherine of Braganza, a tea drinker (like most of the Portuguese nobility) whom he married [3].

In 1660 the British monarchy was restored. Charles and Catherine then introduced the custom of tea drinking to the British court.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_II_of_England

[2] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_II_of_England

[3] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catherine_of_Braganza

You're all way off.

A pair of Gauls and a Breton (by pure coincidence) brought tea to England.

It's all documented in history books such as this one:



The demand for tea amongst the English aristocracy predated production in India.

The main impetus for the English to grow tea in India, was that it was costing too much to buy from the single monopolistic source, China. Basically, the Honourable Company was trading opium for tea. More money could be made, meeting English demand for tea, by producing it on Company controlled land.

The question is, where did Catherine of Braganza source her tea from? India, as suggested by the grandparent comment, or China.

Well that and the spices

In modern Taiwanese Min Nan, "tê" sounds more like "day" than "tea". Maybe it sounded different in the Min Nan of Fujian a few hundred years ago, or something was "lost in transcription" when the dutch wrote "thee".

I’m not sure how you got “day" out of it, the linked recording sounded (to me) more like "the", if you were trying to say the word "there" (but obviously without the "re").

My mums' native dialect is Teo Chiew, which is a variant of and falls under the Min Nan family of dialects (but can be quite different in many ways, a native speaker of one does not necessarily means mutual understanding of the others). And while similar, Teo Chiew uses a "dê” rather than "tê" for tea.

On another note, the area is also the origin of the "Gong Fu Cha" style tea ceremony. [1]

[1] https://www.kyarazen.com/chaozhou-gongfu-tea/

> I’m not sure how you got “day" out of it, the linked recording sounded (to me) more like "the", if you were trying to say the word "there" (but obviously without the "re").

What kind of English accent do you have?

I'm from New Zealand, so the way I pronounce vowels is probably differs a lot from the prestige accents of English.

Ah. I’m from across the ditch (Aussie for those unfamiliar with the term).

I don't have any reason not to believe you, but your position does not seem to be backed up by Wikipedia, where /d/ is not listed as a phoneme.


I have a hypothesis, mostly dependent on the position of a native English speaker, which I have no idea whether you are or not:

It's common to not be able to easily distinguish /e/ and /ai/. English does not have the former, and it tends to best match to the /ai/ diphthong, which glides over and would "average" to /e/.

It's also common to confuse aspiration and voicing on stops. English initial voiced stops are unaspirated, while initial unvoiced stops are aspirated. Hence, an unvoiced, unaspirated initial stop does not typically occur in English, and can vary in listener interpretation between /t/ or /d/.

This article covers voice onset time (VOT) and how voicing and aspiration play into it:


Important note is that VOT is negative for voiced, near zero for unvoiced, and positive for aspirated. This measurable phenomenon backs up the fact that unvoiced, unaspirated sounds are basically in between standard English sounds and why you can get differing interpretations.

Yeap you probably hit the nail on the head. I'm a native English speaker and I only know a tiny bit of Hokkien. I really struggle with the aspirated/non-aspirated aspect of many of the consonants.

Not sure about the vowel sounds, I found those all reasonably trivial to distinguish.


If you click on the "+" button, there's a voice recording of how to pronounce it. It's from the Taiwanese Ministry of Education. To me it sounds much more like "day" than "tea".

The vowel sound definitely matches /e/. It sounds like /ai/, but there's none of the glide that would be present in a diphthong.

I ran it by my wife, as she's a native Spanish and English speaker, and she agrees with /e/ over /ai/.

Thanks for that link. Very cool site; reminds me of dict.leo.org for German.

The vowel sound in day is /ai/?

I can hear a slight difference between the vowel sounds in both tê and day. That's something I always just attributed to accent, not a different vowel - but I suppose vowel changes can be very subtle.

Er... No, I brain farted. The diphthong in "day" is /eɪ/. /aɪ/ (which I was listing as /ai/ on my phone) is as the word "tie".

So maybe that makes it more obvious why it would be easy to confuse /e/ and /eɪ/, especially when your native language only has the latter. Brain heuristics work regardless of whether you want them to or not, and they'll fill in the missing /ɪ/ even if it's not present.

My father is a baby boomer born in Xiamen, Fujian and then left for Taiwan as a child with his family in 1949, although did most his schooling in Hong Kong and then came to Canada for University. He pronounces it somewhere between "te" and "de", but nothing like "day".

The Min Nan "t" is an unaspirated consonant (meaning if you hold your hand in front of your mouth when you pronounce it, you shouldn't feel the puff of air), like the t in Spanish. English speakers routinely interpret these sounds as aspirated consonants since we lack those sounds. Why Dutch writes it as thee, I don't know, since Dutch lacks aspiration. Wiktionary just said the h is faux-Greek but I don't understand the motivation of that.

Neither Cantonese nor Mandarin has voiced stops. In Yale and Pinyin, t is aspirated as in English "tea", d is unaspirated as in the t in English "Steve". English does have the sound, but only as an allophone of t when it's preceded by s.

The Dutch would have pronounced 'thee' closer to 'tay' (i.e. /tʰe/) whereas modern English speakers would pronounce it like the word 'thee' (/ði/).

In London, "Char" is also slang for tea as in "a cup of char". Looks like there is some overlap.


In UK people also sometimes solely use the term "brew" or "cuppa".

Yes, I'm sitting there now. You can also ask for a "cup of splosh".

Oh, don't know that one; I guess South-East .. where's it from?

Yeah, I think so.

Interestingly in my home state of Kerala situated in the south western coast of India. Tea is called Chaaya while tea leaves are called Theyila where ila means leaf. The heavy commercial production of tea was started in Kerala only after the British arrived.

I thought `Chaaya` could mean 茶叶(chá'yè), while 茶 is the tea and 叶 are the leaves.

The interesting thing here is that the old pronunciation of 茶(cha) was with a long vocal (chaa), whereas 叶(ye) was short and sounded like (ya)

In hindi, chai is written चाय - chaaya, but the final "a" is elided due to language rules. I wonder if it has anything to do with that.

thank you, exactly this is what I want verify, that it is just a coincident.

Or just chai

Fellow Keralite here. I can relate to this. Chaaya in Kerala is tea made with tea leaves and milk. Black Tea is called "Kattan Chaaya", literally translates to "strong black tea".

Almost the same goes for the word Restaurant. Everywhere in the world it's almost the same - except in Russia it is pectopah! :)

For those who can't read any Russian, or never read that short story where this is the punchline essentially, pectopah is pronounced restoran. It only drops the T, basically.

The reason it drops the T is that the word came to Russian from French (as did so many other words). And the French word "restaurant" is pronounced with a silent 't' at the end, in the typical French way. So the cyrillic rendering of that sound ends up without a 'т' on the end.

> For those who can't read any Russian

That's Cyrillic alphabet, not Russian. Cyrillic is used in other languages as well. I was born in Serbia (which also uses Cyrillic) so I understood the punchline, even though I would hardly say I "read any Russian". It's more of a south and east Slavic thing than it is a Russian thing.

It should be really written in upper case, as PECTOPAH, to match the cyrillic letters better :)

or just write the cyrillic letters, i guess: ресторан ;)

Yup, transliterating PECTOPAH from Cyrillic to Latin you would get RESTORAN.

Which is pronounced basically the same. Only the 't' at the end is dropped. Same goes for other Slavic languages.

Just to be nitpicky, the Cyrillic is ресторан, so it's pronounced something like; "restoran".

Yeah, thats the pun - sorry for not being clear with my intention! Same idea applies for many words or names where the cyrillic characters have close resemblance with some other latin characters ("Hatawa is a popular russian/slavic girl's name" - of course properly it should be translittered as Natasha...)

It's also "restoran" in pretty much every Slavic language AFAIK.

In Hebrew it is completely different מסעדה or mis'adah

Wouldn't this be a word made up in the early 20th century? Many Hebrew words were created pretty much from nothing at that time to revive an ancient language into modern use.

I checked and you are correct.

In Slovak tea is caj (ignoring diacritics, or "čaj" as written properly, it's just I have English keyboard and diacritics is hard to use on it). And it’s pronounced as “chaj”. So very similar to cha. And it turns out Slovakia is a landlocked country. Just one data point but seems to be additional evidence.

In Croatia it is "čaj". Although it has a coast on Adriatic and coastal people use "čaj" as a word too, despite Italian influence (which uses tè for tea). Even people on islands that were influenced hugely by the Republic of Venice.

I'm curious - was the Croat language (or some parent of it) pretty predominant during the times of the Republic of Venice? Or is that a "new" thing after the unification of Yugoslavia, and prior to that Italian (or some Venetian dialect) was widely spoken?

It was predominant. Only difference was that latin was predominant in written form until 16th century, after which there was some kind of standardization of the language on one main dialect (we have three) and a movement(s) towards written croatian as well.

People living on the island Hvar speak quite a unique version of Croatian. The Venice influence is huge there, graveyard is filled with gravestones of 16th+ century elite.

I sometimes find them hard to understand due to heavy usage of words with Italian roots. But their grammar is equivalent to Croatian grammar.

They also use the word "čaj".

I'd say Croatian as a language was popular and was heavily used on coastal areas even before Italian influence, and after too.

I'd say all Slavic languages use that word.

Except Polish, like stated above.

And Belarussian. And Kashubian.

Any Vietnamese know why Vietnam has "tea" in the middle and "cha" in north or south on the map? I spend 2 months in the north then lived for a few month in Saigon. I never came across people using anything other than "trà" (cha).

Vietnamese uses both "chè" and "trà". But for some reasons, for things like iced tea, bubble tea we only use "trà". For the traditional tea that serves in a teapot, either is fine.

I forgot about chè, thank you for reminding me. this word is also a desert according to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%C3%A8

What did you mean saying "tea in the middle"? I'm quite sure we Vietnamese only use "chè" or "trà", both variants are basically "cha" I think.

Sorry if I wasn't clear. Looking at the map, there are 6 dots over Vietnam. The 2 in the middle of Vietnam (around Hue and Danang I guess) are pink, for "te" as opposed to the other one which are blue, for "cha".

Kind of strange that this refers to "Sinitic" contrasting to "Min Nan" when Min Nan is a Sinitic language.

Just learnt that "Min Nan" dialect can be referred to "Hokkien"

"Hokkien" is an approximation of how "Fujian" is pronounced in Min Nan, which in turn means "Southern Min" (dialect/language).


Singaporeans and Malaysians almost always call the language "Hokkien" - at least when speaking English. "Min Nan" seems like a term only linguists use.

Interesting enough, in Armenian tea is pronounced as 'tey' and Armenia is surrounded by countries where tea is pronounced as "chay" - Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Iran.

Came here to say this.

This is a quite cool breakdown of the differences.

One thing it misses is in English (ie, the country) usage there is both.

Tea, obviously, is more common but the phrase "a cup of char" is clearly derived from the Chinese and Indian origins. Interestingly it (at least was) primarily a working class phrasing, possibly originating with sea-faring types and dock workers.

Of course now the US is confusing matters by making "chai" be ubiquitous for Massala chai, but that's a different matter!

If you are interested in the linguistics of food names, might I recommend: Daniel Jurafsky's The Language of Food[1]

[1] - https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Language_of_Food_A_...

I'd always understood the T to come from the Taxa (Alfandegaria) imposed upon the blocks the Portuguese imported to Europe and sold to the rest of Europe.

Cha (Portuguese) because the Portuguese were not only the first Europeans to reach China by boat, but Japan and India as well, so they used the rightful Asian terms for it, having no other. (back when the Dutch were still pirates hoping to catch a laden Portuguese caravella. FWIW.)

"A few languages have their own way of talking about tea. These languages are generally in places where tea grows naturally, which led locals to develop their own way to refer to it. In Burmese, for example, tea leaves are lakphak."

Actually, 'lakphak' is not entirely distinct, and likely related to 'tea,' at least the 'lak' part. The STEDT project has a number of reconstructions across Sino-Tibetan for etyma variously meaning leaf, flat object, and tea: http://stedt.berkeley.edu/~stedt-cgi/rootcanal.pl/etymon/786

See also my comment here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16134698

The first character associated with a 'bitter herb' that later became specific to tea, 荼 (rlya), is probably a cousin of this 'lak' in modern Burmese.

Moroccan arabic actually uses both word: the classical "shay" and "atay", which is more common.

The map looks so very similar to this modern OBOR project http://mercaturaglobal.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/1200x-...

If you want to read more about history of tea consumption and the role of China, India and England, I recommend reading "For all the team in china: How England Stole the World's Favorite Drink and Changed History" https://www.amazon.com/All-Tea-China-England-Favorite/dp/014... It helped me understand why green tea is dominant in China vs. black tea in most other places..

In a world with the many complexities of language, its refreshing to see an example of a word that's pretty much used in 2 ways almost everywhere!

If this fascinates you as it does for me, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies [0] is an equally fascinating read, although there are arguments against the hypothesis.

[0] https://www.amazon.com/Guns-Germs-Steel-Fates-Societies/dp/0...

The local Nepali speaking people of Darjeeling, which is famous its champagne of teas, call it chi-yah. Close to Cha but not quite.

I was about to add this. It's "chi-yaa" almost all over the mountains of Nepal.

I hear it as ending with yeah! As no one says no to them. :P

Although I live in that area and don't drink tea.

sounds like cha-ye, or tea leaves in Mandarin

sounds really close to me

What about "herbata" in Polish then?

According to this[0] it comes from the Latin for Herbal Tea (herba thea).

[0]: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/herbata

Comes from French "herbe" meaning "grass/plant". "Herbe" is also source for English "herb".

Latin herba actually, rather than french herbe

What about "czajnik" (teapot) in Polish then? ;)

This is an excellent map for the purpose of it, lifted from a bunch of research (shows the words in each individual language and also which language they originated from)


Wikipedia has a long page on the etymology of tea and how to say it in various langages in the world: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etymology_of_tea

I'm confused. In Urdu and Hindi it's "chai" (rhymes with eye) not chay (rhymes with stay)

They're using an unusual transliteration. "ay" can sound like "eye" in English but it's atypical to use that in transliterations now-a-days.

They're using a transliteration that's usual for basically everything but English, the one that assumes common Latin sounds for all the individual letters, and then you just pronounce them one by one.

They're using a transliteration that's unusual: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chai

What's the confusion?

why the article contradicts me and says the tea is "chay" in Hindi and Urdu. I'm not saying the articles wrong, but maybe there's something I'm missing

Tranliteration, particularly into English, is fraught with myriad difficulties, the least of which being English orthography itself: there isn't a consistent mapping of sounds to letters. And there are often different systems of transliteration: from Japanese, 茶 (tea) can be transliterated as cha (Hepburn) or tya (Kunrei).

I don't read the article and the spellings as prescriptive with respect to pronunciation. I'm not familiar with transliteration of Hindi or Urdu (if someone more knowledgable on the subject would chime in, I'd love to learn a bit more), but I wouldn't read too much into the spellings.

I'd like to see the equivalent map for 'coffee'.

This article is about the spread of the word coffee, and has a small map at the end. http://www.slate.com/blogs/lexicon_valley/2014/12/10/coffee_...

It's pretty similar with coffee being almost universal across different languages.

In south india Tea is called "theneer" in the Tamil language. I wonder if that's because it came from Sri Lanka as opposed to Northern Indian states.

Austria is isolated from sea and the one and only word used to reference that beverage is "Tee" (tea), so we have one exception to the rule.

well, back then Austria still had sea access via Trieste etc.

There are exceptions since the Portuguese brought tea from India to Europe by sea, and still they call it "cha"

It's mentioned in the article. "And the Portuguese traded not through Fujian but Macao, where chá is used."

Some people in England also use "cha" as slang for tea. It's not widely used, but it is present.


Likely that influence comes from when India was part of the British Empire. Lots of Indian-derived words made it into British English.

Pyjamas and bungalow are examples of borrow words from India. India has rather a lot of languages and I don't think you can lump them all into "Indian".

"Char" as in "cuppa char?" is the usual spelling (would you like a cup of tea?)

According to this: http://www.rmg.co.uk/discover/explore/cup-char it is likely that "char" is derived from Chinese (another country with rather a lot of languages - would the real Chinese please stand up!)

I think this is overly snippy. GP just seemed to imply that the words cone from India, not that India has a single language.

Also as far as i can tell "cha" is far more common than "char" in the British Isles.

"Also as far as i can tell "cha" is far more common than "char" in the British Isles."

No, it isn't. "Char" is always the spelling I have encountered here (in 47 years).

Caravan Thug Juggernaut Guru Avatar Karma Nirvana Cheetah Jungle

Are just some Indian words loaned by English.

Two interesting words that Punjabi/Hindi has loaned from French is Savon (sabun) and Cartouche (Kartoos).

Right, this was probably because it was already called "cha" in India by then, and the Portugese didn't have direct contact with the people speaking Min Nan Chinese, but rather the Indians who used the Sinitic version of the name.

It's addressed in the article.

from China

This adds a new dimension to the chai latte as a token of globalization. Breaking borders.

I had just made a pot, sat down to have breakfast and came across this. wonderful!

And what about South America ?

In Brazil, at least, the Portuguese 'cha' is used

In spanish, té. I presume yerba mate falls in a different hot steeped beverage category.

The headline seems to imply an overland trade route between China and Japan.

Wrong. Herbata if Slav or Commonwealth.

Lithuanian - lt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arbata

Polish - pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbata

That's pretty much all exceptions.

Apparently it still comes from "herbal tea" (herba thea).

Comments like this are what the internet is all about! AFAIK Yugoslavs call tea "čaj" (pronounced... chai!). I have no idea about other Slavs. And if by Commonwealth you mean the British one, I think the biggest member state is India, where "chai" is also the word.

I meant Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth:)

In Swedish ”te” is what is usually refeerrd as a tea (in England for example). Herbal tea is ”chai” in Swedish

I think “chai” is not really a Swedish word, but a word recently imported by the cafes, signifying some kind of tea-based beverage.

Herbal tea is örtte (lit. herb + tea). Chai is something different.

Correct. When we swedes say "chai" we actually mean "masala chai".

I'm confused, tea and cha are the same word.


Yes, and that's pointed out:

> Both versions come from China.

> The term cha (茶)

> But in the Min Nan variety of Chinese, spoken in the coastal province of Fujian, the character is pronounced te.

The same word, originating in China, was brought by trade routes around the world, with slight variations in pronunciation, resulting in two words.

Then the article title is very misleading...

I think, from what I can guess, that you are reading the wrong context from the title.

We have two words for tea, today, because of one word in the past. Most languages today use those at least one of those two words.

It may have been one word in China, but it isn't in the languages that it influenced.

I know the history of the word very well, and I understand that clickbait headings have to simplify.

But if you want to call CHA and TEA different words, in what sense are TEA and THE (French) the same word? I would say they are either all the same word (how I would phrase it) or all different - since they are in different languages.

But this is all semantics, not very interesting really.

Disproof by counterexample: The Japanese word for tea is cha/ocha, which must surely have arrived by sea (Japan is an island archipelago!).

In the Philippines, it's "cha-a" or "tsaa", which is a counter-example for "cha" being spread across land. The Philippines was consecutively under Spanish and American rule and 99% of Chinese there speak Hokkien/Min-nan yet do not use "te".

Seems the same applies to Guam as well.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | DMCA | Apply to YC | Contact