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My dad has always said “chop chop suey suey” whenever he wants something done quickly, but I want to know where that saying started.

Lexico gives only a brief etymology of both chop chop and chop suey.

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  • Chop suey (n.): 1885, American English, from Chinese (Cantonese dialect) tsap sui "odds and ends, mixed bits." - etymonline.com/word/chop%20suey
    – user66974
    Oct 24, 2017 at 21:03
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    I found only one relevant google search entry for "chop chop suey suey" and it's this google books reference, in a 'fable' about the origin of the Chop Suey dish: books.google.co.in/… -- based on this story the expression might mean 'quick quick.' Oct 24, 2017 at 21:13
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    @EnglishStudent It's just a mash-up of "chop-chop" and "chop suey," which are quite common on their own.
    – Casey
    Oct 25, 2017 at 19:57
  • Related: english.stackexchange.com/q/58865/87426
    – jxh
    Oct 25, 2017 at 20:56
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    I just learnt that 'chop chop' means 'quick quick.' Thst explains it. Thanks for educating me @Casey! Oct 25, 2017 at 21:23

5 Answers 5

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Perhaps your dad added the "suey suey" part on his own, maybe for humorous effect?

Wikipedia and The Phrase Finder both talk about the etymology of chop chop, meaning "hurry up" or "quickly, quickly!"

A longer article at an NPR website says:

Several etymological dictionaries trace the origins of the word to a version of pidgin English used on ships (and later by Chinese servants and traders who regularly interacted with foreigners). The Oxford English Dictionary traces the first usage of "chop chop" in print to an 1834 article in the Canton (Ohio) Register. Two years later, it would also appear in The Penny Magazine, an illustrated English publication geared toward the working class. In an 1838 article, "Chinese English," the magazine defined "chop-chop" as "the sooner the better," but made no mention of the phase being rude or curt.

According to Hobson-Jobson: The Definitive Glossary of British India, the noted Anglo-Indian dictionary published in 1886, the phrase originates from the Cantonese word kap, or 急 (which means "make haste"). In Mandarin, the word is , and in Malay it's chepat. This evolved into "chop-chop" and was quickly picked up by the Englishmen who traveled the Asian seas.

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  • Sure the suey suey part isn't sui sui or sooey sooey (as in a call to pigs? merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sooey )
    – Magoo
    Oct 24, 2017 at 22:53
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    @Magoo - Who knows? But that seems doubtful to me, given the term chop suey.
    – J.R.
    Oct 24, 2017 at 23:42
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“Chop chop is a phrase rooted in Cantonese.

  • It spread through Chinese workers at sea and was adopted by English seamen. "Chop chop" means "hurry, hurry" and suggests that something should be done now and without any delay. The word "chopsticks" likely originates from this root.

  • The term may have its origins in the South China Sea, as a Pidgin English version of the Chinese term k'wâi-k'wâi (Chinese: 快快; pinyin: kuài kuài)2 or may have originated from Malay.

(Language Log)

"Chop chop suey suey" appears to be an extension on the original phrase "chop chop" probably based on the Chinese food name "chop suey" which became popular in the United States from the late 19th century.

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    How does it end up as "chop" from "kwai"?
    – Casey
    Oct 25, 2017 at 16:37
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    It seems chop was used as a classifier word in Pidgin. kwai can actually be translated to quick. So, while in Pidgin, they may have been saying Take these sticks for eating, the phrase chop stick may have been associated with kwai-zi, and became the word chopstick.
    – jxh
    Oct 25, 2017 at 18:34
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    has a final p in Cantonese and several other varieties of Chinese while does not. Both have a quick sense so I suspect the former (with reduplication for emphasis) is a more probable source of chop chop
    – Henry
    Oct 25, 2017 at 19:41
  • @Henry: Sven Yargs' answer mentioned the same.
    – jxh
    Oct 25, 2017 at 21:00
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Chop chop is (or possibly was) pidgin English for "quickly". Combining the term with "Chop suey" is very much the sort of jocular expression a dad might use: I don't know if it exists outside your family.

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  • And I wouldn't recommend using it outside your family, it might be perceived as racially insensitive, to me it sounds like ridicule/mocking of Chinese speakers.
    – BradC
    Oct 26, 2017 at 14:00
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Your father is not the only person now on record as having used the expression "chop chop suey suey." From "Chop Suey" in Katherine Chew, The Magical Dumplings and Other Chinese Fables (2008):

Many Chinese joined the 1849 California Gold Rush. When they found gold, they were invariably killed by claim jumpers. To survive such a lawless foreign land, the pragmatic and resourceful one opened eateries and laundries instead. ...

Among the successful restaurateurs were two cousins Ah Ying and Ah Sing. ...

Late one night they had locked up and gone to bed dog-tired after every scrap of food was sold. In the middle of the night they were awakened by loud pounding and voices demanding food. Before they could respond, the door was kicked open. In the dim moonlight, they saw two big, mean looking miners had barged in and were pointing a gun and knife at them.

...

The cousins went into the kitchen. What to do? There was nothing they could serve. As they rummaged through the shelves, cupboards and storage places for edibles, they came to the day's garbage, which they had been too tired to throw out before retiring.

In a flash, they dumped a generous portion of the garbage in a wok, made a sauce, and served the dish piping hot.

"Ooh this is good!" the burly miners exclaimed. What is it called?"

Though still shaking in their pants from fear, the cousins managed to say, "Chop chop suey suey."

Indeed, bits and pieces! Under the terror of gun and knife, a new dish was born.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, fifth edition (2010) offers the following definitions and etymological notes on chop-chop and chop suey:

chop-chop adv. Informal Right away; quickly {Reduplication of Chinese Pidgin English chop, quick, of Chinese dialectal origin; akin to Cantonese gap1 and Mandarin , hasty, urgent, pressing both < Middle Chinese kip.}

...

chop suey n. 1. A Chinese-American dish consisting of small pieces of meat or chicken cooked with bean sprouts and other vegetables and served with rice. 2. Informal A miscellany: His coterie of execs were up to their pin stripes in chop suey of deals" (TV Guide). {Cantonese zaap6 seoi3, miscellaneous bits (equivalent to Mandarin zásuì) : Cantonese zaap6 mixed (< Middle Chinese tshap) + Cantonese seoi3, to shatter, broken in fragments (< Middle Chinese suaj`).}

The expression "chop chop suey suey," insofar as it isn't simply a nonsense phrase, thus seems to intend to combine the speed of chop-chop with the fragmentary miscellaneousness of chop suey.

For what it's worth, I advise extreme caution in using the expression "chop chop suey suey" because people of East Asian (and especially Chinese) origin might take it as demeaning, patronizing, or otherwise pejorative. The expression "chop-chop" is strongly associated in my mind with orders barked by Asian or European masters to Asian servants, and adopting affected Pidgin English inevitably raises the question, "Why are you talking like that?" That's not to say that there was anything intentionally pejorative in your father's use of the phrase—but I wouldn't use it today.

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    I can't speak for America,so this is just an aside, but to my knowledge "chop chop" has almost no racial undertones here in the UK. In fact, to be honest, I didn't realise its origin until I read this post. In fact, one of our large grocery chains started a delivery service called ChopChop!
    – Dan
    Oct 24, 2017 at 23:20
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    Just seconding @Dan's point here - in UK English "chop chop" is an extremely common idiomatic phrase that has long since lost any association with its origin.
    – Jules
    Oct 25, 2017 at 3:41
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    When I hear "chop-chop" I think more of my teachers or parents exhorting me to do something than a particularly Asian context. Even if that's the origin of "chop-chop," I think it feels as well assimilated as "honcho" or "ketchup."
    – Casey
    Oct 25, 2017 at 16:39
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    @Dan I am American and I think what you've said applies equally well here.
    – Casey
    Oct 25, 2017 at 16:39
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    While I don't think that "chop chop" by itself would be widely viewed as racist/or patronizing, I absolutely think that "chop chop suey suey" would. Sounds like it is mocking Chinese speakers.
    – BradC
    Oct 26, 2017 at 14:00
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Using the power of Twitter, I found some examples of people saying "chop chop suey suey" (sometimes with more "chop" or less "suey") to mean "hurry up". It's not clear to me if these instances are related to each other or if it was something independently "rediscovered".

I'm not sure if these Tweets predate your dad's usage, but it does show that it has a little currency outside him. (Though I would not recommend using the expression, due to the fact that it can be be interpreted as racist towards Asians.)

@GhettoProper, April 5, 2009:

@BeeColl whats up with my edit? If you finish it today Ill give you $20. You got till 8pm chop chop suey!

@T_FUTURIST, August 30, 2009 (this seems to be a paraphrase of the movie, and not a direct quote):

Watched THINK FAST, MR. MOTO (1937) last night. Quaint racist period piece with whites ordering Asians: "Gettee Bags chop chop. Chop Suey!"

@Angelina305, October 11, 2009:

@MZBELIZE09 ok lady! chop chop suey! lets gooooo to la playa and playyyyyyy

@Panama_K, October 22, 2009:

@MzJlyn_SD @DJGigi_SD Snap to it Joss!!! Chop Chop Suey Suey!!

@__Candiceeeee, March 9, 2011:

@Duhh_ItsDorii lol I don't got time to be waitin for to lil one armed self.! Hurry it up.! Chop chop suey.!!

@rikayla, November 18, 2011 (maybe, maybe not an example?):

MHR523 and business cards tomorrow. Chop chop chop. SUEY. #iamveryfunny

@NickiPlayhouse_, March 15, 2012:

@floss_artist Well I need the link, Chop Chop Suey... ! I'm waiting _

@Danielle_Selene, October 6, 2012:

Jaida Playing With Her Imaginary Friends: Get In Line! Hurry Up! C'mon! Chop Chop Suey Suey!!!!

@alyssarstivers, October 15, 2012:

@SaraMichelley chop chop suey suey dewy dewy get to it c'mon

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