n a major victory for Chinglish speakers everywhere, the phrase “add oil!” has been officially added to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).
“Add oil” is a direct English translation of the Chinese phrase “jiāyóu” (加油), an exclamation used frequently across China to express encouragement or support for someone else. Despite the phrase being one of the most widely used in the Chinese language, it’s always been difficult to come up with an appropriate way to translate it into English, because of the expression’s versatility, leading some to go with the jokey literal translation.
This happens mostly in Hong Kong. The entry in the online version of the OED says that the phrase originates chiefly from Hong Kong English, giving the definition as “expressing encouragement, incitement, or support: go on! go for it!”
Hong Kong media outlets have widely reported on the phrase’s inclusion in the OED with the city’s net users cheering their contribution to the world’s “most authoritative and comprehensive record of the English language.”
It was Hugo Tseng, an English professor at Taiwan’s Soochow University, who first noticed the entry, penning a gleeful column about his finding in Apple Daily. Tseng said that for more than a decade he had been regularly checking for the phrase following each OED quarterly update, indicating that “add oil!” likely came in the latest batch of new words.
However, the phrase isn’t actually listed in the most recent update of 1,400 new terms, which includes words and phrases like: nothingburger, fam, not in Kansas anymore, eeny-weeny, dunnit, assless, and Pooh-sticks. In a 2016 blog post, OED editors did at least say that they were researching the expression.