English usage in Hong Kong

The level of English is pretty high in Hong Kong. I hardly see any errors. This is very much unlike some of the ‘Chinglish’ I’ve seen on our brief forays into mainland China, where some of the English we’ve seen has been completely unintelligible.

However, the first time we started noticing some slightly unusual uses of English in Hong Kong was when we realised we were seeing the word ‘Shroff’ everywhere e.g.

Shroff sign

A little googling later and we found out that the word ‘shroff’ is an old colonial word from India, which means a banker or money changer (ref). I think the use in Hong Kong is more someone who takes a payment.

I was a little amused to see that it’s a verb too! This picture is taken from the Hong Kong business registration website:


Another time, I was going about my business in the Post Office when I saw this sign:


I was picking up a parcel at the time and got some very odd looks for taking the photo!

It appears that ‘philatelic’ relates to stamp collecting (ref), so I assume this is the counter where you pick up your special edition stamps that you have ordered!

I saw this information panel whilst walking through the Kowloon Walled City park:


‘Vicissitude’ means changing or fluctuating conditions (ref). This panel was part of a history of the Walled City so I suppose it related to changes in the city over time. I’m guessing that maybe there is a more common word of this type in Cantonese and the people who made the sign got their Cantonese-English dictionary out and found the most appropriate word in English. Which makes sense, it’s just a shame it’s a word most English people have never heard of…

This is another slightly quirky use of English, where it would never normally be written down:

Litter Cum Recycling Bin

These “litter cum recyclables collection bins” are everywhere, and do exactly what they say – they take both litter and recycling.

And finally, what I think is a very cute use of English:

Bus captain

Yes, in Hong Kong, the humble bus driver has been promoted to the bus captain! It definitely sounds much better :)

Have you seen any other unusual uses of English words in Hong Kong? Or elsewhere? I’d love to hear from you if you have!

Thanks for reading!


7 thoughts on “English usage in Hong Kong

    • Haha, no I am not an English teacher! I don’t think “shroffing” is actually a word at all, I was trying to make a gentle joke about this website’s use of English :)

  1. Pingback: The Little Koo blog turns 3! | the Little Koo blog

  2. Pingback: Correct spelling in Hong Kong | the Little Koo blog

  3. Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an really long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear.

    Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyways, just
    wanted to say great blog!

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