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Sep 8, 2008
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Chinese puzzle
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Bristol fashion
Roman nose
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Chinese puzzle box
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A.Word.A.Day
with Anu Garg

A reader sent this query:

Our elementary PTA is hosting a Chinese Auction. A parent who has two Chinese children has contacted us indicating that she feels this term is offensive. What is the origin of this term? Before changing the event name, we wish to educate ourselves on this issue and make an informed decision. Can you help me understand this term?

A Chinese auction is a combination of auction and raffle. You can buy one or many tickets and bid them on various items. All the bidding tickets for an item are kept in a box. At the end of the event the owner of the ticket that's drawn from a box gets the item. The more tickets you bid on an item, the more your chances of winning, but the bidder with the most tickets is not guaranteed to be the winner.

I believe the term is no more offensive than, say, Chinese checkers. Having said that, I must mention that some of these stereotypical terms associated with nationalities are indeed offensive. It's often because the English didn't particularly like the Dutch or the Irish or the French. Many years of hostility, war, and antagonism have had an effect on the language. These disparaging terms are not unique to English though. The French have perhaps as many terms for the English, "filer à l'anglaise" (English leave), the French equivalent of the British expression "French leave", for example.

This week we'll look at a few words marking various countries and cities.

Chinese puzzle

PRONUNCIATION:
(CHAI-neez PUZ-uhl)

MEANING:
noun: A very intricate puzzle or problem.

ETYMOLOGY:
From the allusion to the complexity of puzzles from China.

USAGE:
"In this psychological mystery, a Chinese puzzle of a movie, Deneuve plays dual roles."
Kevin Thomas; Deneuve Triumphs in 'Crime'; Los Angeles Times: Apr 10, 1998.

See more usage examples of Chinese puzzle in Vocabulary.com's dictionary.

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you. -John Bunyan, preacher and author (1628-1688)

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