【明報專訊】Recently, it has been widely reported that the phrase "add oil" has been made an official term in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). It follows the phrase "dai pai dong," which was officially accepted by the OED in 2016. The Oxford University Press requires that a word or phrase must reach sufficient independent usage over a "reasonable amount of time" before it is considered for inclusion. Popular usage is also important, for the publisher also considers whether the word or phrase has reached a "level of general currency" easily understood by many people without explanation. Ernest Kao of SCMP reports that the OED cites a 2005 SCMP article on Macau as one of the earliest printed evidence of the general use of "add oil." ("Add oil," which is used to express encouragement or support, dates back to the 1960s as a cheer at the Macau Grand Prix.) Kao adds, "The process of adding words can be long and painstaking. '[It] depends on the accumulation of a large body of published (preferably printed) citations showing the word in actual use over a period of at least 10 years,' according to the publisher."
Linguists remind us that publishers like the OED have long adopted European words as part of the corpus of the English language. The word "deli", which was first documented in mid-20th century American English, is shortened from the German "delikatessen" (meaning "delicacies"; associated with the French délicatesse). "Cafeteria" comes from mid-19th century Latin American Spanish cafetería — with the component café ("coffee") drawn from the Italian caffè, Turkish kahveh, and Arabic qahwah. The Spanish added -tería to refer to "a place where something is done." Further, "restaurant" is originally French, while "pizzeria" is naturally Italian.
But rarely are words from Asia transported into the official English language. "Dai pai dong" was a happy exception. So is the ubiquitous Singapore/Malaysian "kopitiam" ("coffee shop") and South Asian "dhaba" ("roadside stall"). However, "cha chaan teng," referring to the local eatery for the working class in Hong Kong, has yet to be accepted into the OED, although a local airline has served "cha chaan teng cookies" on board. "Panciteria," which refers to Chinese restaurants in the Philippines, should also be accepted. As Hong Kong people celebrate the inclusion of "add oil" by the OED, we should think more broadly about why Asian vernacular languages in general are less adopted than European languages by the authoritative "gatekeepers" of the English language.
John Erni is a university professor at Hong Kong Baptist University. He thinks everyday culture is complex but always enchanting.