Jia you! Phrase 'add oil!' added to Oxford English Dictionary

It is a phrase that may be heard in Singapore exam halls as students give one another as messages of encouragement.

Few are aware, however, that the expression "add oil!", a literal translation of the Mandarin term "jia you", is an official entry in the Oxford English Dictionary, complete with an exclamation mark.

The discovery was made by Associate Professor Hugo Tseng from Taiwan's Soochow University, who wrote a column about his finding in Hong Kong's Apple Daily on Sunday (Oct 14).

"To directly translate 'jia you' into 'add oil' - this is a form of Chinglish that many English teachers will correct. However, it has become popular to the point that the Oxford English Dictionary has accepted it and recognised its place," he wrote in Mandarin.

Photo: Screengrab/OED.com

The entry describes the phrase as being of Hong Kong English origin, and defines it as "expressing encouragement, incitement or support", as in "go on! go for it!".

It also includes the corresponding Mandarin "jia you" and Cantonese "ga yau" in its explanation, saying it references "petrol being injected into an engine".

Several sources suggest that the expression originated as a cheer at the Macau Grand Prix in the 1960s, according to an editor's post on the dictionary's website in May 2016.

The Straits Times earlier reported on 19 Singlish terms added to the Oxford English Dictionary, such as "blur" (slow in understanding) and "lepak" (to relax, hang out).

The dictionary is updated on a quarterly basis. This month, more than 1,400 new entries were made.

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This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.