During the Korean War, it was revealed that up to 30% of American POWs collaborated with the Chinese and North Koreans after being taken captive. To justify these statistics, the American media began claiming that the Communist regimes were brainwashing soldiers, a term first being coined in a 1950 Miami News article by Edward Hunter and meant to mean "psychologically influence". This might seem like a simple portmanteau of brain and wash, which it is to some extent, but it is also a calque (literal translation) of a Chinese idiom sounding like xinao and meaning "to wash the brain". This was actually used by the Communists and was a bit of a pun on the xixin custom, a Taoist ritual of "cleaning the mind". However, the word literally comes from nao, meaning "brain" (from Proto-Tibetan snewk), and xi, meaning "brain" (from Sino-Tibetan mbsjl). Without the Chinese word, we wouldn't have the English word, and what a loss to our culture that would be.
Adam Aleksic is a 221-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam will be studying linguistics at Harvard University in the fall.
The Etymology Nerd