As a former English teacher and long-time observer of the curious ways Chinese people approach our native tongue, my list of linguistic pet peeves is surprisingly few. Yet there is one term that I can no longer stand: delicious.
Ask any Chinese person about his or her favorite food and you’re bound to hear the word ‘delicious’ peppered into the conversation with alarming frequency. An example: “In my hometown you can eat many delicious food”. Another, when eating together: “How is your food? Is it delicious?”.
I don’t mean to slag off the Chinese whose success in learning English in a vacuum are admirable. But it’s time we, the collective laowai, must put a stop to the overuse of ‘delicious’. I hereby propose that we help relegate ‘delicious’ to the truly extraordinary situations in which the term applies.
In essence, ‘delicious’ for some reason has become the standard Chinese translation for hao chi (好吃), an extremely common phrase one hears in the culinary mecca that is China. What’s odd is that hao chi is used in almost precisely the same way we use the simple term ‘good’ to describe food. In both languages a distinction between food that is merely good and food that is extremely good (‘delicious’) are made without difficulty.
Furthermore, the Chinese do have a term that corresponds well with the English ‘delicious’: fei chang hao chi (非常好吃), or literally ‘unusually good’. Even the simple hen hao chi (很好吃) would suffice. A conscientious English teacher would simply have to ask students to reserve ‘delicious’ for food that doesn’t come around every day.
So how does this happen? How can so many Chinese people make this simple error in English, whereas situations of similar complexity are handled with aplomb? My sense is simply that when the Chinese began to study English en masse and the vast majority of English teachers were fellow Chinese, someone wrote ‘delicious’ as the translation for hao chi in a glossary and the entire nation thus became inculcated with the slight, yet nagging, error.
This, my laowai teaching friends, is where you come in. Every time one of your students says delicious when they mean hao chi, please give them the courtesy of correcting their error. Little my little, we’ll be able to put ‘delicious’ in its proper lexical context.