CANTO SLANG: EPISODE 20
A word we use all the time, and even the Gweilo(s) call themselves Gweilo(s) but have we ever stopped and wondered why they’re called Ghost Chaps?
WTF is that? Everybody (majority of everybody in HK) knows this slang, and we all use it, but what are the origins of this slang?
Whilst Gweilo is now regularly used to refer to Westerners it however, used to have derogatory connotations. This is because European sailors in the 16th century crossed into China and China regarded these people as barbaric and did not like that they were breaching China territories. “Ghost” is used as an insult/derogatory term in Chinese historically, so they named them Ghost Men/chap/lad/etc. This term Gweilo was then widely used and popularized during the first and second Opium Wars after the Unequal Treaties that China signed with the Western Powers (let’s just say China was not happy with the Western Powers at that time).
Now, we freely use Gweilo to describe foreigners (my old coworkers even called me Gwei Mui – Ghost Lady) and even foreigners describe themselves as a Gweilo, so obviously the negative connotations are no longer present, but the slang remains, as does the history.
Share this if you liked it! Also have you checked out the previous Canto Slang Lesson #19, Blow Water?