Are you a little gung-ho in your approach to things? Tim Bowen explains the unusual origins of this word.
Very few words in English have their origins in China. Typhoon (‘great wind’), wok and kung-fu are some of the rare examples. Another word from Chinese is the term gung-ho, which is defined by The Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners as ‘very enthusiastic, especially about something that might be dangerous’.
The term is believed to have first entered the language during World War II, when an American officer told his men about the work ethic in China and how people used the terms kung and ho (work and harmony) to describe their teamwork. The soldiers in the officer’s battalion then decided to call themselves ‘the kung ho battalion’ to represent their ability to work together. The battalion acquired a reputation for its zealous approach to warfare and the anglicized version of the term came to mean zealous or eager. Outside the context of warfare, gung-ho is used in a wide variety of contexts and has begun to take on the meaning of over-zealous or even reckless. It is often found in a sporting context, as in “We were a little gung-ho at times but we showed character to win after going 2-1 down”.