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In the UK some Chinese use a word pronounced like 'a cha' (my guess in pinyin) to describe South Asian people (generally regarded as people of Indian heritage but could include Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, etc.). I have heard this word used by both Chinese immigrants of Hong Kong origin and by newer mandarin-speaking Chinese immigrants from the mainland but have been told that this word has a Cantonese language origin.

The word seems to have a vulgar connotation. I have been told a vague etymology that the word relates to the perceived eating habits of South Asians, that they use their hands to eat rather than forks, but I've no idea if this is true.

Can anyone clarify the origin of this word and give a written form (if existing)?

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    阿三ā sān (derog.) an Indian 百科:中国人对外国人的蔑称:阿三/红头阿三:印度人,源于上海,对当时锡克巡捕的称呼,后泛指印度人,在大陆有歧视意味。同源的还有印度阿三。 – user6065 Jan 5 '17 at 20:50
  • @user6065 Thanks for that. I think there is an fictional example of such a Shanghai-based Sikh police officer in the Bruce Lee movie 'Fist of Fury'. – James Hill Jan 9 '17 at 14:25
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嚤囉差 http://www.cantonese.sheik.co.uk/dictionary/words/41792/

嚤囉差 /mo1 lo1 caa1/(jyuping): indian person (It is a Cantonese only term)

嚤囉差 or simply 阿差 was a nickname for South Asians people who lived in Hong Kong during the British Hong kong (colonial) period.

  • 摩羅 came from the word 婆羅多, Hong Kong transliterated it to 嚤囉
  • 差人 means cop

  • [n] prefix to a name or term of address.

To make a nickname for 嚤囉差, people shorten it to just '差' and add '阿' before it to indicate 差 is a name (Indian).

Reference:

摩羅差 https://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E6%91%A9%E7%BE%85%E5%B7%AE

摩羅差是為印度半島籍貫香港差人的俗稱。大英帝國時期,英國從印度招募不少當地人投入軍隊服務,後來這些印度軍人被調派至香港,轉而投入警隊服務,是故印度及巴基斯坦籍貫差役被俗稱為摩羅差。此詞毫無種族歧視或者任何眨意成份,惟衙差一詞出於印度口音時,廣東人容易誤聽為「阿叉」,因而後來才被外籍人士和年輕一輩誤以為是蔑称。1舊時,廣東人的家中長輩或以「夜叉來了」(或是黑白無常)的來臨,來嚇令不服從的孩子。為免誤會延續,阿叉一詞在香港社會已經逐漸少用。

摩羅一詞源自古代對中東來華的伊斯蘭商旅 Morramen 或中世紀從北非攻佔歐洲西南部的北非人 Mouro 的譯音[2][3][4]。古時,印度人自稱婆羅多,故此廣東人譯音此稱謂為摩羅,其後香港人普遍以此稱呼在香港的印度人;差則為差人之意思。

阿差 http://baike.baidu.com/view/14993813.htm

  • The answer could be improved slightly if the possible origins of the 阿 sound were explained and how the 2 characters became connected (I know they are within the link but it would be good to make it clearer in the answer itself.) – James Hill Jan 9 '17 at 14:37
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阿叉 aa3 caa1 is a deprecatory/insulting word for Indians in Cantonese. It is not polite, even though it is widely used in HK.

http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_502d72c70100n6pc.html

“阿叉”起源于香港。当时香港为英国的殖民地,许多印度的工人被英国殖民者派到香港,印度人基本上是全民信教,信教就必定会念经,而经文多以梵语诵读,在香港人听来便是什么摩罗,什么摩罗多。然后再听听印度人说话,多以Tar音结尾。于是便得名“摩罗叉”。摩罗叉就成了印度人的代称,印度人被简称为阿叉。

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