As we UCLA students slog through final exams, we like to commiserate about our exams, projects, and papers and then reassure each other that it’ll all be over soon.

In Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China, people often use the expression “add oil (加油)” to encourage each other, especially during final exams season.

Yesterday I said “加油!” to my Chinese American friend and then started wondering where this phrase came from.  How does “add oil” relate to “keep it up!” or “you can do it!”?

Journalist Ben Moger-Williams translated a folktale about the origins of the phrase.  It’s an amusing story, although I think it is more likely that 加油 is the Chinese equivalent of “burning the midnight oil.”

Well, maybe I’ll never know the definite origin of the phrase, but I’ll use it anyway.  To all my fellow students, ADD OIL!

— posted by Debbie Chong


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