You can tell something about a place and how it’s viewed by others by the phrases in different languages that use its name. ‘Shanghai’ used to be a verb meaning “to kidnap”; ‘Afghanistanism’, in turn, a noun meaning —– as the sublime Oxford English Dictionary puts it —– a “Preoccupation (esp. of journalists) with events far distant, as a diversion from controversial issues at home”. These usages have obviously both been rendered obsolete with time, unfortunately so in the latter case…
I was intrigued by how Hong Kong is portrayed and reflected in its non-city-specific usages in (sometimes old-fashioned) English. Here are the phrases I’ve come across so far:
- Hong Kong foot (more commonly known in English as athletes’ foot, but that is the usual phrase or some fin Chinese)
- Hong Kong Phooey (a cartoon character who will soon come back in film form blessed with the voice of Eddie Murphy; surely the tax rebel Wesley Snipes would have been more appropriate?)
- Hong Kong flu (the 1968 global pandemic… that must have been fun for the local tourist board)
I’ll put any more phrases on this page as I come across them.
In non-attributive uses: Apparently “Hong Kong” was also a croquet term referring to when an opponent’s ball was sent (presumably within the laws of the game) to a far-off corner of the ground (or beyond it). Similarly, “go to Hong Kong” was used as an equivalent of “go to hell” at some point, according to the OED. I can’t imagine being asked to go anywhere nicer…