The Mandarin Chinese expression, 我们AA吧! (wǒmen AA ba), is the equivalent of “lets split the bill” or “let’s go Dutch”. I heard it for the first time from a Chinese friend the other day. My friend assures me that it’s a very common expression and is used when going out for a meal with friends (or on similar occasions) where instead of one person treating everybody (请客 qǐngkè), as happens at formal meals and banquets, each person pays for what they eat and drink.

Other ways to express the same idea include 我们分开付款 (wǒmen fēnkāi fùkuǎn) = we split the bill; 我们AA制吧 (wǒmen AA zhì ba) “let’s pay AA”; and 我们各付各的吧 (wǒmen gèfùgède ba) “let’s each pay our own”.

Apparently AA stands for “Algebraic Average” – the average share of the bill [source].

[Addendum] AA is also used in medical prescriptions as an abbreviation for the Late Latin word ana (in equal quantities) [source].

A few other Chinese expressions that use letters like this include 卡拉OK (kǎ lā OK) = karaoke and T恤 (T xù/xié): T-shirt.

Do you know any others?

The English phrase “to go Dutch”, meaning to pay separately, first appeared in writing in 1914 and is mainly used in the USA, according to the OED.

According to Wikipedia:

The phrase “going Dutch” originates from the concept of a Dutch door. Previously on farmhouses this consisted of two equal parts. Another school of thought is that it may be related to Dutch etiquette. In the Netherlands, it was not unusual to pay separately when going out as a group. When dating in a one-on-one situation, however, the man will most commonly pay for meals and drinks. English rivalry with the Netherlands especially during the period of the Anglo-Dutch Wars gave rise to several phrases including Dutch that promote certain negative stereotypes. Examples include Dutch oven, Dutch courage, Dutch uncle and Dutch wife.

This entry was posted in Chinese, English, Language, Words and phrases.

12 Responses to 我们AA吧!

  1. Andrew says:

    In Taiwan, the expression “Q” or “QQ” (kew kew) is used to describe foods that are soft and chewy, like tapioca pearls in milk tea, or noodles. It’s slang, in a sense, but is in widespread usage, probably because everyone drinks milk tea. As far as I know, it comes from a Taiwanese word that means roughly the same, but even though I speak Taiwanese at home in the US, I’d never heard it before going to Taiwan. Apparently, it can also mean “cute.” I found an in-depth look here: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2252

  2. bronz says:

    In Hong Kong Cantonese they also use “AA制” (more common with 制 than without).

    Another mathematics-related term that is also in use in Hong Kong is the often-used letter “n” as a variable, particularly common in making hypothetical statements where it is not important to specify a number (“Let’s say there were n people…”), or sometimes also when the number is so high “n” is used to represent some exaggerated but unspecified number (“I’ve already told him n times!”).

    I find both these interesting because they are not your run-of-the-mill loan words where they were originally used in English in everyday language.

    I hear Japanese has tons of loans like this. One curious one (that doesn’t use the English alphabet though) that I remember is “arafo”, which is a shorted form of “around forty” to describe women around that age.

  3. BG says:

    QQ is also the name of the most popular chat client in China, not sure if there’s any relation. Otherwise, I can’t think of any other expressions like this. You covered all the ones I know. I just learned 我们AA吧 when in China last month and I could never figure out its etymology.

  4. Daniel says:

    Note that the term “Algebraic Average” seems to only appear in the context of this Chinese abbreviation. The concept that is meant here is usually described by the term “arithmetic average” (as opposed to “geometric average”).

  5. Zach O says:

    @Andrew – In Mainland China, I’ve never heard of Q (or QQ) being used to describe a soft texture. It’s predominantly used to mean “cute” here — but only young people use it for the most part.

    And Simon, your friend is definitely correct: the phrase “我们AA吧” is very common, at least in Beijing — more common than the other expressions you mentioned. The thing about going AA, though, is that it’s often accepted at the time but then criticized afterwards. As in, you go out with friends and someone suggests that you split the bill. Afterwards, it’s not uncommon to hear mutual friends bitching about it, e.g., “We went out for dinner last night, and can you believe that he suggested we all go Dutch?!” It’s seen as massively cheap in Beijing.

    Another common Mandarin expression using letters is “C,” which means that someone is effeminate (in a pejorative sense). It’s often said twice –CC– which leads me to believe that it comes from the English word “sissy.” In local gay culture, there are also quite a few interesting expressions that involve both numbers and letters, but some of them are kinda explicit, so I won’t mention them here 🙂 Heheh.

    Let’s see… Ooh! One last one: it’s really popular to say “二” (èr, or the number two) to mean “stupid” in Beijing. As in, “你也太二了吧.” Hahah. Don’t know if they use that elsewhere, though.

  6. IAC says:

    I read your blog regularly, but it’s my first time commenting. Hello from just south of you (Aberystwyth)! During my recent visit to Taiwan, I learned a new expression used in Taiwanese “O E C” which apparently is taken from the Japanese おいしい meaning delicious. It was in a commercial on TV and my aunt had to explain it to me. I can’t find good references to this phrase online, but it’s an interesting borrowing reduced to letters!

  7. BnB says:

    Regarding “going Dutch,” the Dutch I dealt with considered themselves to be pretty frugal – even downright cheap. One of them specifically said, “There’s a reason why they call it, ‘going Dutch.'” May not be etymologically accurate, but they seemed to take ownership of the trait (as opposed to it being specifically negative).

  8. Michael says:

    My Taiwanese friend has never really heard of this phrase, and actually misunderstood me as saying, 我們愛愛吧, a very different meaning indeed! 😉
    He said 我們分開付款, is fine, but prefered 我們各付各的吧 the most. AA must be a mainland thing.
    T恤 is written in Taiwan, but nobody would ever say that for fear of sounding extremely out of the loop. “T-shirt,” in the style of “cheese” and “pizza,” is simply pronounced à l’américaine, or at least a Taiwanese variant thereof.
    I noticed you chose to write in simplified characters. Is that because of the usage of the phrase in the Mainland? I know you spent quite a while in Taiwan.

  9. Michael says:

    Lest we forget the protein-packed XO sauce, XO醬!!!

  10. Michael says:

    Sorry for another add-on, but the letters “Orz” are also used as a kind of internet expression to sarcastically mean, I worship you, you’re the best. It is because of the shapes of the letters and nothing else. The O is the head, r the shoulders and arms, and z the butt and legs, as if the person were bowing down to someone in worship.
    Another similar one is OGC with a much dirtier meaning, which I’ll leave up to the readers to decipher. Again these are commonly used on the internet, and not spoken

  11. bronz says:

    T恤 likely came through Hong Kong Cantonese, where 恤 (Jyutping: seot1) is pronounced quite close to English — like “shut” but the vowel more rounded and more central, and the “sh” anywhere on the continuum between [s] and [ɕ], the latter of which is closer to English [ʃ].

    I have a suspicion the “AA” expression might have also come through Hong Kong Cantonese, which is well known for borrowing tons of English loanwords, but I have nothing to back it up.

  12. Simon says:

    Michael – I wrote the Chinese bits of this post in simplified characters because I thought these expressions might only be used in the Mainland and not in Taiwan, and because I was too lazy to provide the traditional characters.

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