A錢 e chîⁿ (click syllable to hear) means to steal or misappropriate money, but there has been debate online about what the “A,” pronounced “e” (click to hear) actually stands for, with some people attributing it to an abbreviation of an English word and others assuming that it represents a Chinese character. After looking online I found around three theories in total.
1. The first I found pretty unconvincing, essentially that this is an abbreviation of the English word “abuse”. Why this word would come to Taiwan when it isn’t really used in this context in English is anyone’s guess, maybe “appropriate” would be more convincing. I don’t think that verbs like this would be adapted from English however, not to mention that “A” means “adult” or “porn-related” in Mandarin Chinese in Taiwan.
2. The second two examples posited two separate characters as the Taiwanese for “A.” One was a random poster on Forumosa in English, who said:
It is a false adaption from Taiwanese. “A錢” should be “挈錢”(qie4 qian2).
From what I have found, A錢 originally comes from 掖錢 (pronounced as yē qián in Mandarin), 掖 means “to hide under armpits and take away.”
But 掖 is pronounced iā (click to hear) in Taiwanese, so this doesn’t seem to fit either.
3. The third and most convincing argument is from the Taiwan Language Blog which posits 挨 or the now defunct – both of which can mean “to meet with” or “to push,” to pull” or “to grind.” The blog states that the use of the term in the sense of misappropriation and specifically in the verb-object phrase A錢 began to appear in newspapers at around the end of 1999. The blog owner suggests that in this context means to pull, and by extension to shift about or to take a bit from this to make up for that, which can by turn be extended to misappropriation of money:
All in all I have the most faith in the third solution. If anyone else has a clearer idea let me know in the comments section. Feel free to contact me with any cool Taiwanese words or phrases you hear and want featured on the blog.