The “Joss” in the Joss Paper 金紙的英文名字

I never realized that the term for the “ghost or God money” (variously called 金紙、陰司紙、紙錢 and 冥幣 in Chinese) that we use in English, “joss paper”, is a Chinese-English pidginization of the word God in Portuguese “Deus”.


It’s odd because I’ve used it so often without thinking to look up its origin. I guess I’d always assumed it was from Cantonese like other terms more commonly used in English like “pak choi” for 白菜 bai2cai4. Incidentally the Taiwanese for joss paper is kim-chóa. The reason there are so many different names for it in Chinese is because different kinds of paper are burned for different kinds of spirits, whether they be ancestral ghosts, deities or the ghosts of the recently deceased.

Update: The Oxford dictionary states that the term came from Dejos, the Javanese corruption of the now obsolete Portuguese word for god Deos, which in turn came from the Latin Deus. It was first used in the early 18th Century. Not sure if was just the term “joss” to refer to god was coopted in reference to China by the Portuguese in Macau as one commenter (Keoni Everington) suggested or how it came to be used in the West. It says that it refers to Asian religions though. Would love it if anyone has any details on this.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s