Wok talk: a real-life retronym!

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From François Lang:

Since you're a Sinologist, I thought you might be amused by a retronym that I had to coin.
My wife (59 YO) was born and grew up in Beijing, and came to the US in the 80s to do her PhD at Cornell. Since she's Chinese, the only stovetop cooking vessel she'd ever known was a wok, so she calls any such vessel a wok — whether it's a sauté pan, sauce pan, dutch oven, or stockpot. They're all woks to her.
So…when she uses what we Westerners call a wok, she calls it a "Chinese wok", as opposed to a Western wok!

Here at Language Log, many's the time that we have wandered / wondered in the ways of wokdom, for a sampling of which see the following section.

Selected readings



  1. AntC said,

    October 17, 2023 @ 2:38 am

    the only stovetop cooking vessel she'd ever known was a wok, …

    This seems a strange claim. Chinese households (at least in Taiwan, and going by Chinese supermarkets in NZ) have a wide range of stovetop cooking vessels, including square/straight-sided saucepans for boiling vegetables and soups, noodles.

    Are they all named some variety of 'wok' [Cantonese] or 鑊 'guō/huò' [Pǔtōnghuà]? (GTranslate tends to think so: Píngdǐ guō, zhǔ guō, jiān guō, chǎo guō, ….)

    You can of course cook almost anything in a wok [meaning the sloping-side wide pan] — especially with a steam basket suspended above the broth. That doesn't mean you have to.

    … was born and grew up in Beijing

    So quite possibly didn't know the Cantonese word 'wok' until coming to the West.

  2. Scott Mauldin said,

    October 17, 2023 @ 5:32 am

    When I saw your title I thought of another retronym I've heard (I'm remembering this from an anecdote I heard on a podcast so apologies if not correct): a walk-talk, formed as a hypercorrection from native Brazilian Portuguese speakers who later learn English. In Brazilian Portuguese many compound nouns imported from English acquire an extra "i", e.g. Lapitopi. A native Brazilian Portuguese speaker might hear their import of "walkie-talkie" and assume that this same process was applied, and some may thus use the hypercorrection "walk-talk" in English.

  3. Judge said,

    October 17, 2023 @ 9:25 am

    @Scott Mauldin that's funny, and you got it mostly correct. it's not compound nouns necessarily that create the /i/, but final stop and affricate consonants. the example I heard was "Brad Pitt" in a YouTube video explaining the differences between Spanish and Portuguese, and now I can't help but hear Bradgy Pitchy every time I see his name…

  4. Gregory Kusnick said,

    October 17, 2023 @ 11:04 am

    Suddenly I have an urge to stir-fry some undetached rabbit parts.

  5. Terry Hunt said,

    October 19, 2023 @ 12:34 pm

    @Judge This must be why, when I watch IndyCar races with Brazilian Portugese commentary (for reasons I won't bore you with) I hear the New Zealand driver Scott Dixon being referred to as "Scottie Dixon" (with a drawn-out "o").
    Now, about the difficulty they have with "Graham Rahal" . . . .

    (Sorry for meandering further away from the thread subject.)

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