Open main menu

etymology of long time no see

Info from OED

the oldest attestation in the OED is from 1900 and consists of a native American saying 'Good mornin. Long time no see you'. From reading around this topic for a while it looks like there is no solid evidence that the phrase moved into English from any one language but I would cite the OED attestation if I knew how to!

Here it is:
7.c. Colloq. phr. (orig. U.S.) long time no see, a joc. imitation of broken English, used as a greeting after prolonged separation. 1900 W. F. Drannan 31 Yrs. on Plains (1901) xxxvii. 515 When we rode up to him [sc. an American Indian] he said: ‘Good mornin. Long time no see you.’ 1939 R. Chandler in Sat. Even. Post 14 Oct. 72/4 Hi, Tony. Long time no see. 1940 [see hiya int.]. 1959 D. Beaty Cone of Silence viii. 105 ‘Hello, Clive.’ ‘Long time no see.’ 1959 C. MacInnes Absolute Beginners 68 Hail, squire.‥ Long time no see. 1971 D. E. Westlake I gave at the Office (1972) 164 ‘Hello, Arnold,’ I said.‥ ‘Long time no see.’
I suggest marking this etymology unknown. Keahapana 00:33, 9 September 2010 (UTC)
It seems to suggest some kind of Native American pidgin origin. I don't know that this is enough evidence to warrant anything other than {{unk.}} DCDuring TALK 00:21, 6 October 2010 (UTC)
Hmm. I had thought that {{unk.}} was an etymology-language template, indicating that a word came from an unknown language; but I gather from your comment, and from some of the pages that currently use it, that it really just means that the etymology is unknown? —RuakhTALK 02:07, 6 October 2010 (UTC)
That seems to be how it is used, not just by me. It autocategorizes into "Unknown etymology" with a lang=, at least now. There is also {{und}}, for "undetermined language". DCDuring TALK 05:18, 6 October 2010 (UTC)
Thanks for the comments! I’ve incorporated them and rewritten the etyl to clarify that it is unknown and reference OED, as of this edit. As noted, there is no solid evidence either way – there is an identical phrase in Chinese and other terms (of same period?) did move from Chinese to English, but OTOH it’s first attested as (presumably invented) pidgin English, and such language was popular at the time (e.g., Tonto). It also seems sometimes attributed to Chinese/Chinese-American prostitutes or bar maids, as a pickup line, but this may be a latter day change.
—Nils von Barth (nbarth) (talk) 13:42, 15 August 2012 (UTC)

This is an archive page that has been kept for historical purposes. The conversations on this page are no longer live.