Chinese Whisper

Posted by Elaine on November 11, 2001

In Reply to: Chinese Whisper posted by ESC on January 12, 2001

: : : : Can anyone tell me the origin of Chinese Whisper?

: : : Does "Chinese whisper" mean a "stage whisper," a whisper that really isn't? In other words, a whisper that can readily be overheard? I am guessing this comes under the category of "derogatory epithets" (see below) like "Chinese fire drill" and, a new one ("Chinese homerun")I saw while researching your inquiry.

: : : MEXICAN STANDOFF -- A couple of references I checked say we get "Mexican standoff" from the same regional chauvinism that gives us "Dutch treat," etc. Everything south of the border was considered inferior to U.S. stuff. Apparently, having a gunfight was considered a point of pride, so a gunfight where no shots were fired - a Mexican standoff - was inferior and thereby "Mexican." The Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollins, New York, 1977) calls Dutch treat, etc., examples of "derogatory epithets aimed at neighboring countries." They also list phrases pertaining to Mexico. ".The expression 'Mexican athlete' is used to describe an athlete who goes out for the team but doesn't make it. A 'Mexican promotion' is one in which an employee gets a fancy new title -- but no increase in pay. And a 'Mexican breakfast' consists of a cigarette and a glass of water. So a 'Mexican standoff' is a situation from which nothing at all can be expected." The Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997) says Mexican standoff is "A stalemate, a confrontation that neither side can win. Originally an American cowboy expression describing a gun battle with no clear winner, the words date back to the mid-19th century. It is often used to describe a pitching duel in baseball today."

: : There you go, just shows how one can be mistaken: I had always thought that 'Chinese whispers' was the process by which a perfectly sensible message becomes completly distorted as it's passed from person to person.

: I was just guessing on what "Chinese whisper" means. I was hoping the postee would furnish more information.