What is the etymology of "嗨"? Is it used because it sounds like the English word "Hi"?

I tried looking it up, but Wiktionary doesn't have any etymology information in either the English or Chinese edition, and it's not listed in Wiktionary's category Chinese terms derived from English.

  • Also used commonly for the English ‘high’. cc-cedict says: high (on drugs, or as 'in high spirits') (loanword). You'll hear people say things like 今天玩得好嗨哦
    – Mou某
    Commented Aug 9, 2015 at 3:06

5 Answers 5


I wouldn't call 嗨 onomatopoeic, since it doesn't seem to be imitating any particular sound.

According to the Ministry of Education's 國語辭典, 嗨 is an interjection that expresses discouragement, regret, surprise, etc. It is sometimes written as 咳, (in this sense also read hai, not ke).

This use goes back to Yuan dynasty drama. It can also be used in chanting sort of expressions such as 嗨唷, which is what everyone was yelling when I was on the tug-of-war team. Acc. to 國語辭典, this use can also be found in Yuan dynasty plays.

Unlike some dictionaries, 國語辭典 does specifically mention the use of 嗨 as 音譯 for English Hi. This use must be quite modern. Acc. to the Oxford English Dictionary, the use of 'hi' as 'a word of greeting' (=hello) is primarily North American in origin, apparently late 19th cent. I wouldn't be surprised if 嗨 = Hi, was a post WW2 innovation in Chinese.

  • How does it not imitate "any particular sound"? It clearly imitates the reading of 海, as indicated by the character.
    – Nimrod
    Commented Jul 26, 2018 at 22:11

I tried looking for sources trying to find where 嗨 was to represent an English word.

This 2003 article from an apparently notable Chinese arts newspaper complains about TV hosts using 嗨 to mean the English word high, as in exhilarating:

近来,常常听到主持人用“嗨”这个字。。。令观众和听众只能朦胧地意会 (Recently, I've heard a lot of TV hosts use the word 嗨...it causes the listeners to only be able to guess at what the host means).

Because the article notes that much of the audience is probably unfamiliar with the word, the origin of 嗨 to mean any English word must have been before 2003, but not that much before.

This 2004 article says

Hi(嗨),苏珊 (Hi, Susan)

which helps support my previous conjecture about the timing of the meaning of 嗨 to mean hi.

I think the term more commonly use to say hi in Chinese is , but some time in the 90s or so, the word 嗨 started being utilized due to how similar it sounds to the English word hi.

Also on another note, in addition to what wpt said, 嗨哟 is used like heave-ho and according to Wikipedia it was used in some old songs that provided the basis for 东方红.


It is an onomatopoeic interjection expressing sigh (like 叹), surprise (like 咦), doubt and so on. The additional meaning of "hi" is considered slang.


口 + 屮 + 水 + 母 = mouth + sprouting plant + 3 points water + woman

Edit: Forgot the 三点水

http://www.zdic.net/z/16/zy/55E8.htm has a nice old version, you can see the woman clearly. Quite what the significance of her having a plant for a head is escapes me, (maybe someone here knows) and the representation of her bosom leaves a lot to be desired!

Here are some old versions of 海


zdic has as number 1 meaning 象声词, so I presume that is its main use.

  • 2
    I'm pretty sure the question is asking about when/how 嗨 came to mean "hi" not about it's yee old origins as a character.
    – Ringil
    Commented Aug 9, 2015 at 0:36
  • Question was if it was derived from English. Answer is no.
    – user4452
    Commented Aug 9, 2015 at 9:48
  • The question is clearly asking for the word etymology, not glyph origin.
    – Curiosity
    Commented Apr 5 at 6:09

How it happened:

Chinese People = ‘A’ Americans = ‘B’ Anyone else = ‘C’

A. * inventing serious work for plays * “I have it, a brand new word! It Have a great meaning and a more interesting usage!”

B. “Howdy y’all, let’s get going to that kingdom in da’ middle!”

  • years later *

A. 您好!你是哪一位?你们是哪国人?

B. “Errrm Hi…?”

A. 那个字是什么?

B. “What? It’sa’ hey, hey, hello!”

A. 阿,很短的,我爱那个字!但是不是中文的字,所 以我要做新的字,叫 ‘嗨’!

B. “Welp, good byee!”

C. * Ships arrive to collect tea * “Well, how great is it to finally arrive in China lads, or 中国 as I believe the natives call it”

  • Murmurs of agreement *

A. 嗨!

C. “Pardon!”

A. 你们叫 ‘您好’ 那个一样!

C. “No, but it is a good word, so we shall take it and change it to ‘Hi’! 谢谢您!再见!”

A. 再见!

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