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I have suddenly found out that Chinese people use the word tissue instead of the word napkin.

Before I checked that word in the dictionary I couldn't understand what they are talking about. Is there any reason to use one word or another in some situation? How are they different?

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1  
What do they use the word tissue for? "Napkin" has different meanings, perhaps regional... And most Chinese people speak in Mandarin or some such, not in English. So what people are you talking about? –  GEdgar Aug 10 '12 at 3:22
    
by napkin I mean - a piece of paper used at table to wipe the lips and fingers –  Filip Spiridonov Aug 10 '12 at 3:42

5 Answers 5

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Of course, this is subject to interpretation, and it may be regional, but here is what first pops into my mind when I hear those two words:

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Napkins are used to, say, clean barbecue sauce off my fingers or cheeks; tissues are used to blow my nose (although, in a pinch, I could use one in place of the other). Tissues are generally made gentler, so as not to irritate the sensitive skin around the nose, while napkins are made sturdier, so they don't fall apart when wiping something sticky. That said, it would hardly surprise me of other countries or cultures used the words differently. After all, a biscuit in Alabama is not the same thing as a biscuit in Wales.

As a footnote, there are other ways these words can be used, where they would mean something totally different (e.g., sanitary napkins, or toilet tissue). Other related items include paper towels, and towellettes (or "wet naps").

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That's an easy one. Chinese, Vietnamese and other Asian restaurants provide tissues instead of napkins. The food and typical eating habits make it more messy, so it's cheaper to use several tissues. A single more expensive napkin wouldn't last for a whole meal. Providing lots of napkins would be expensive. In other words they use facial tissues instead of napkins in restaurants. It doesn't mean a new use of the word by those cultures... it's someone getting confused when they thought the Chinese refer to napkins as tissues. Not that these two terms were far from each other in the first place.

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Does that mean that tissue is basically the same, just smaller and thinner? –  Filip Spiridonov Aug 10 '12 at 3:45

In British English, a tissue is made of paper and used for sneezing into, removing nasal detritus and mopping up spilt coffee. Bathroom tissue is used for wiping other parts of the anatomy. For cenatory use, a linen or cotton cloth is preferred and is known as a napkin, but when made of paper it is a paper napkin. Because of its other uses, tissue would risk being misunderstood if used in this context. A serviette is the same thing, but the word is used only by the aspirational middle class.

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Bathroom tissue? In British English? Really? –  Andrew Leach Aug 10 '12 at 9:15
    
Possibly toilet tissue. –  Barrie England Aug 10 '12 at 9:18
    
hah, I think it's better to use the word napkin somewhere in the restaurant xD –  Filip Spiridonov Aug 10 '12 at 10:32
    
+1 "nasal detritus", cause it aint all just snot n boogers. –  Mitch Aug 10 '12 at 11:11
    
Bathroom tissue is just a pretentious, contrived way of saying toilet roll dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/… –  Tristan r Feb 28 at 14:05

While the words 'tissue' and 'napkin' aren't exclusive, in that 'tissue' refers to the quality of the paper whereas 'napkin' refers to the purpose, in coloquial conversation a 'tissue' will typically refer to a facial tissue, used for blowing one's nose.

Napkins can also be considered facial tissues, but the words will typically be understood as meaning a cloth or paper sheet used to protect one's clothing and wipe one's mouth and hands during and after eating, in the case of 'napkin', and a sheet of paper used for cleaning mucus from the nose in the case of a 'tissue', though the latter can, of course, be used for either purpose.

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In Australia you can use both, napkin and serviette. In fact, when you go to the supermarket the package has written "Serviette".

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