I assume 雪茄 (cigar) is a loanword. Who can tell me what language this word was loaned from and, if appropriate, how it was transcribed?

My own guess is that the word was transcribed from English and entered the Chinese lexicon via Cantonese - in which case the pronunciation of the characters may actually be similar to the English pronunciation of the word "cigar". This is just my guess though and I have no idea whether it's on the mark of completely off.

3 Answers 3


From Chinese wikipedia:


(Loose!) Translation:

The Chinese translation 雪茄 was created by Xu Zhimo. In addition to the similarity of the sounds, the name also comes from the fact that its ash is white like snow.

My dictionary confirms that it is a loanword from English. If wikipedia is to believed, it probably didn't come through Cantonese since Xu Zhimo is from Zhejiang.

  • 3
    To add a bit more information, 茄 in most of the southern Chinese varieties has an initial sound that corresponds to pinyin g-. Mandarin underwent a sound change roughly 3-4 centuries ago that turned gi-, ki-, and hi- into ji-, qi-, and xi-; the southern varieties did not undergo this change, so you can often tell that a transcription is likely southern in origin when g- or k- sounds end up getting transcribed with a character that is pronounced with j- or q- in Mandarin (e.g., Canada - 加拿大, Jiānádà).
    – Claw
    Jan 9, 2012 at 18:15

A thread worth reviving.

The word cigar came into English (and most other European languages) from Spanish. I don't really think it's possible to say which one Chinese got it from, based just on phonetics. Carol Benedict's book on tobacco in China, Golden-Silk Smoke, notes that "Filipino tobacco leaf and hand-rolled tobacco products began to flow to markets in Australia, California, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Southern China" in the 1820s and 30s (page 134), so Spanish is a real possibility.

Benedict doesn't have much to say about Chinese words for tobacco products. The phrase 雪茄煙 does appear in the late Qing novel 二十年目睹之怪現狀. This was serialized sometime between 1903 and 1908 ( don't have the exact dates here), and published in book form in 1909.

The claim that Xu Zhimo (1897-1931) invented the word 雪茄 is thus obviously impossible (he was precocious yes, but not that precocious). I'm sure it goes back well into the 19th cent. It seems to me that both Yue and Wu dialects could easily have produced the form 雪茄 as a transcription of cigar; I would be interested to know if anyone can think of a reason that would exclude one or the other.


Zombie thread!

In Wu dialect (in Zhejiang), this is pronounced as an almost exact transliteration of 'cigar' (like pinyin xiega, but with a short vowel on the first syllable). Several other transcriptions are also from Wu, coming through the Shanghai foreign port, such as jacket.

  • Welcome to Chinese Stack Exchange; have an upvote! In the future (once you pass 15 points), you can comment on other people's posts. This answer is somewhat slim and might do better as either a comment on or an edit to the other answer that indirectly suggests that 雪茄 entered via Wu. Alternately, you could expand your answer (e.g., with similar background to the other one along with sourced transcriptions of 雪茄 into some Wu dialect). Jul 23, 2015 at 7:47

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