Chow Time: Definition, Meaning and Origin

Last Updated on
May 13, 2023

The idiom "chow time" means it's time to eat or have a meal. It is often used informally and may have originated in the 1800s from Chinese migrants.

In short:

"Chow time" is an informal way of announcing that it's time to eat.

What Does "Chow Time" Mean?

The phrase "Chow time" is an informal way of saying it's time to eat. People use it in a cheerful or enthusiastic manner to express anticipation for a meal.

  • The term "chow" refers to food.
  • "Time" indicates the moment for a particular activity—in this case, eating.

Therefore, when combined, "chow time" is a playful and casual announcement that food is ready to be served or consumed.

Where Does "Chow Time" Come From?

The term "chow" is slang for food and has interesting historical origins. It entered the American vernacular in California during the mid-19th century. Around 1856, Chinese migrants in California adopted the word "chow-chow" from a pidgin English-Chinese creole. "Chow-chow" likely originated from the Chinese word "cha," meaning "mixed" or "mixture." The pidgin phrase was used to refer to a spread of different cooked meats and vegetables.

Historical Example

"Skinny Vandeventer is still a little bit peeved because he now has to pipe down with the rest of the seagulls at chow time."

- The Marines Magazine, Vol 3, 1917

10 Examples of "Chow Time" in Sentences

Here are some examples of how "chow time" might be used in various contexts:

  • The smell of coffee and bacon wafted through the house, signaling that it was chow time.
  • As soon as the clock struck noon, everyone knew it was chow time.
  • "Alright, kids, that's a wrap. It's chow time," said the babysitter.
  • Hey, long time no talk! It's chow time. Are you free for lunch today?"
  • The soldiers quickly fell into line when the bugle sounded for chow time.
  • Kidding aside, it's chow time! Let's dig in.
  • "Mom always insists that we all sit together for chow time," the girl explained.
  • Her prim and proper demeanor quickly goes away when it is chow time.
  • At the sound of the dinner bell, all the farmhands knew it was chow time.
  • The dogs started wagging their tails excitedly; they knew it was chow time.

Examples of "Chow Time" in Pop Culture

Like many idioms, "Chow time" has found its way into various facets of pop culture, from movies and TV shows to songs and books.

Some notable examples include:

  • An episode of the television series "Funniest Pets & People" titled "Chow Time" (Season 1, Episode 6).
  • "And I had to talk to Sam a lot: He was chronically tardy, in everything from leaving his cell at chow time to getting back in it after a meal." —Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing, Ted Conover, 2001
  • A line in the film "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" (2000) where the Grinch tells the narrator, "Okay, fellas. Chow time."

These examples showcase how "Chow time" is utilized in pop culture, often to add a touch of authenticity, humor, or excitement to a scene.

Other/Different Ways to Say "Chow Time"

There are many other ways to announce that it's time to eat.

Here are a few alternatives to "Chow time":

  • It's time to eat
  • Let's eat
  • Dinner's ready
  • Mealtime

You can use the alternatives interchangeably depending on the situation and the level of formality desired.

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Chow Time"

  • What does "Chow time" mean?

"Chow time" is a casual way of saying it's time to eat.

  • Where does the phrase "Chow time" come from?

The term "chow" comes from the Cantonese word "cháo," which means "to stir-fry" or "cooked." It was adopted by English speakers during the California Gold Rush in the 19th century.

  • Is it okay to use the phrase in a formal setting?

Generally, "Chow time" is considered informal. For formal occasions, phrases like "Dinner is served" might be more appropriate.

  • Is "Chow time" popular in other English-speaking countries?

"Chow time" is predominantly used in American English, but it may be understood in other English-speaking countries due to American media influence.

  • Can someone use the phrase to refer to meals other than dinner?

Yes, "Chow time" can be used to denote any mealtime, including breakfast and lunch.

  • Is "Chow time" appropriate for all age groups?

Yes, "Chow time" can be used among all age groups, though it is often considered to have a playful or casual tone.

  • Are there synonyms for "Chow time"?

Yes, similar phrases include "mealtime", "dinnertime", "lunchtime", and more colloquially, "grub time".

  • Can one use the phrase in writing?

While it's more commonly used in speech, "Chow time" can be used in informal writing, such as personal emails or text messages.

  • Does "Chow time" have a negative connotation?

No, "Chow time" is a neutral phrase, though it is casual and might not be appropriate for more formal or serious contexts.

  • Can "Chow time" be used in the negative form?

Not typically. "Chow time" is generally used to announce that it's time to eat. However, one might say something like "It's not chow time yet" if the meal is not ready.

Final Thoughts about "Chow Time"

"Chow time" is an informal phrase that indicates it's time to eat. It's a testament to the way language evolves, as seen in its journey from Cantonese kitchens to American tables.

  • The term "chow" originates from Cantonese cooking and has become a staple in American English.
  • It adds a dash of excitement and anticipation to mealtimes.
  • It's widely recognized due to its usage in the military and pop culture.

This idiom is more than just an invitation to eat. It's a call to gather, share, and enjoy the universal experience of a good meal. Next time you're about to enjoy a meal, why not announce, "Chow time!" You'll be partaking in a linguistic tradition that spans cultures and centuries.

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