Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Englishmen, Frenchmen, Welshmen, Scotsmen, Irishmen, Dutchmen, Flying Dutchmen, Turkmen, Indiamen, Bombay Duck and Chinamen

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is no offense to call someone an Englishman, a Frenchman, a Welshman, a Scotsman, an Irishman a Dutchman, a Turkmen. But you cannot today call a Chinese man a Chinaman. They take offense and consider it pejorative and insulting.  I wonder why.

In fact it was never so always. The word was not considered offensive in the past and many prominent Chinese people were proud to call themselves Chinamen. The word took derogatory connotations after the discrimination against Chinese people in the United States and Europe when today, it is generally accepted as an insult to a Chinese person to be called Chinaman when the Englishman Dutchman or Irishman has no problem with the name.

An interesting story is the word used in the game cricket. There is a style of bowling called "Chinaman" which happens to be a perfectly acceptable use of the term. It is a style used by left arm unorthodox spin bowlers by using a wrist hand action to spin the ball which turns from off to leg side of the pitch. The term is believed to have been first coined when Ellis Edgar "Puss" Achong, a Chinese cricketer born in Trinidad and Tobago when he played for West Indies at Old Trafford in England in 1933. After he knocked out the stumps of English batsman Walter Robbins by his unique bowling technique, it seems Robbins said to the umpire "fancy being done by a bloody Chinaman"! Probably from that time this unique bowling style became known as a Chinaman. Today bowlers who use this style include the legendary Gary Sobers of the West Indies.

The Flying Dutchman was not, by the way, a Dutchman at all. It was meant to refer to a ship in folklore which was doomed to sail forever, never calling at port. It portends ill omen.

The East Indiaman was similarly not a man at all. It referred to ships that traded with the Far East during the days of the English East India Company.

And the Bombay Duck was not a duck at all. The name refers to a fish found principally in the seas of Mumbai India. The name it appears came from the days of the British Raj when this small fish was caught and dried and transported on the Indian Railways from Bombay to Calcutta. The British it appears called this rail transport the Bombay Daak. It seems the fish smelled so badly when dried and had to be kept enclosed during transport, which is why when someone used to smell, they used to say "He smells like Bombay Daak". Over time the word was corrupted to Bombay Duck which is consumed today all over the world, both fresh and salted.

Funny how over the years the connotation to some words change and why Chinese today should have no objection to be called Chinamen when it was perfectly proper in bygone days.

Chinamen should be proud of being Chinamen.

Written by me, an Indiaman, Gopalan Nair.

Gopalan Nair
Attorney at Law
Fremont, California, USA
Tel: 510 491 8525


Anonymous said...

Englandmen, Francemen, Walesmen, Scotlandsmen, Irelandmen, Hollandmen, Indianmen, Bombay Duckmen and Chinesemen are ok, but noy Chinamen

Anonymous said...

Not CHINAMAN ; SHOULD BE CHINESEMAN AS THE CASE OF NOt Englandman, walesman, hollandman but englishman, welshman, dutchman.

Anonymous said...

Indian man not Indiaman

Unknown said...


I often read your posts with interest. But this is an exception.

You, yourself acknowledge that Chinaman is considered and insult. But you insist on repeating the insult. You've gone out of the way to find out Why's. Then insist on the insult and ask Why-Not. It is not up to you to decide, but the ethnic group's preference that decide what it should be called.

This error is particularly important as much of your audiance are Singaporeans. In my opinion Singaporeans are rather insensitive, racially speaking - a little slow on the human developement scale in this respect. And you are not helping to correct that with this post.

As an American, I hope you are not telling Blacks that watermelons are good for them. And don't taunt with 'WHY NOT'.