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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


a dog with long thick hair and a purple tongue, originally from China

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The noun chow-chow was first used in English in the late 18th century to refer to food. The name of the dog breed dates from the late 19th century, when the shorter form chow also started to be used, as both verb and noun. The word’s origin is obscure.


The chow or chow chow is a dog with a strikingly leonine appearance, originally from China. The breed’s original Chinese name translates as ‘puffy-lion dog’, an allusion to the fact that the very thick hair around its neck looks somewhat similar to a lion’s mane. In addition to its unusually thick coat, the chow also has a blue-black or purple tongue, a characteristic it shares with another breed originating in China, the Shar Pei. This tongue colour is rare in the animal kingdom, being found also in a type of Australian lizard and in giraffes. In addition to being the name of a breed of dog, chow is also an informal word for food. The phrasal verb chow down means to eat quickly or enthusiastically. Chow also forms part of a compound noun used in South African English, bunny chow. This has nothing to do with rabbits; rather, it is curry served in a hollowed-out loaf, a popular fast food dish that originated among the Indian-origin population living around Durban.


Right now I’m kind of checking out the whole buffet, you know, and maybe in a little while I’ll decide on what I want to put on my plate and chow down on.
(Kevin Hearne)

Related words

Afghan, Pekinese, Dalmatian, Scottie

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

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Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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