The phrase, as I have always heard it, is used to direct someone toward completing a task quickly, or with urgency.

"Go get that object from over there, chop chop."

Have been looking for an answer to this question for years, hoping someone here has some insight.


According to The Phrase Finder chop chop has been around since the 1800s as a corruption of Chinese:

this little reduplicated term has its origins in the South China Sea, as a Pidgin English version of the Chinese term k'wâi-k'wâi. The earliest known citation of chop-chop in print is from the English language newspaper that was printed in Canton in the early 19th century - The Canton Register, 13th May 1834:

We have also... 'chop-chop hurry'.

A slightly fuller account was printed two years later, in a monthly journal which was produced by and for American missionaries in Canton - The Chinese Repository. In January 1836 it contained an article headed 'Jargon Spoken in Canton', which included:

"Chop-chop - pidgin Cantonese phrase for 'Hurry up!'"

It may be related to the word chopsticks as well although this link is tenuous at best:

Apart from in travelogues of the Far-East, there is little recorded mention of chop-sticks in English until the mid 20th century. The term 'quicksticks' however, did make it back to Britain in the 19th century, as an imperative meaning 'hurry up; do it without delay'. John C. Hotten recorded this in A dictionary of modern slang, 1859:

"Quick sticks, in a hurry, rapidly; 'to cut quick sticks', to be in a great hurry."

The Oxford English Dictionary supports the Chinese origin, citing the etymology as:

Etymology: Pidgin-English, < Chinese k'wâi-k'wâi .

  • This doesn't make any sense. "Kuai" doesn't sound even remotely like "chop." – Kit Z. Fox Feb 22 '12 at 19:37
  • 2
    I must admit I always thought "chop suey" had something to do with "chop-chop (hastily-made) stew", but etymonline tells me it's 1888, Amer.Eng., from Chinese (Cantonese dialect) tsap sui "odds and ends.". Another armchair etymologist's bubble burst! – FumbleFingers Feb 22 '12 at 19:49
  • It isn't always the case that armchair etymologists' bubbles need to burst. The thing about popular phrases is that there are often multiple popular etymologies for them, which become sources for preservation in their own write. The same way there are always several "forces" affecting preservation of a genotype, there are always several "sources" affecting the preservation of an idiom. Otherwise there wouldn't be eggcorns, would there? – John Lawler Feb 22 '12 at 20:19
  • sources for preservation in their own right, surely? Speaking of eggcorns... – Karl Knechtel Feb 22 '12 at 20:30

The norwegian phrase "...kjapt kjapt!" makes much more sense to me: it is pronounced similarly, and the meaning is approx. "...hurry, hurry!".

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