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.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.