What ex­actly is a “Jetso”? – Ge­orge Jet­son

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Dear Mr. Know-It-All,

A “jetso” is a special of­fer, a deal, a bar­gain. It’s a pho­netic tran­scrip­tion of the Can­tonese phrase jeuk so (著數), which es­sen­tially means “ad­van­tage” or “profit.” You might better trans­late it as “freebie”—with a jetso, there’s al­ways a sense that you’re re­ally get­ting away with some­thing you shouldn’t be, a deal that’s too good to pass up.

But the word “jetso” is one of those that’s never re­ally worked all that well in English. Un­like other Can­tonese loan words or phrases such as “ketchup” or “chop suey,” it just doesn’t flow off the tongue—not to men­tion the fact that there are sev­eral words in English which mean the same thing. Sadly, “Jetso” sounds more like a nick­name for your Aussie mate than any­thing else.

Not that it’s stopped the city from try­ing to em­ploy it when­ever pos­si­ble. There are plenty of jetso special of­fers from many a com­pany, and in April 2015 the gov­ern­ment an­nounced a new series of dis­counts aimed at get­ting the re­tail-shy peo­ple of Hong Kong spend­ing again. Its English name? The “HAPPY@Hongkong Su­per JETSO.” Sounds like your Aussie mate Jetso had a good time in the city, then?

Mean­while, at the Jockey Club—where else?—there have been sev­eral horses named af­ter the word: Jetso, Good Jetso, Jetso De­light. The most suc­cess­ful was Jetso him­self, boast­ing six wins and 10 place fin­ishes over a 30-race ca­reer between 1985 and 1990. Top three places in more than half of his races—that sounds like a jetso to us.

Still, the word sticks in the English-speaker’s mouth a lit­tle. But just Google “jetso” and ev­ery­thing changes: You’re pre­sented with count­less sites full of special of­fers. And on the in­ter­net, more than any­where else, the word “jetso” works. Af­ter all, if you want to run a site full of dis­counts and deals in Hong Kong, you’ll still need an English URL—so doesn’t “Jetso” make per­fect sense? From clunky Chinglish phrase to el­e­gant on­line so­lu­tion: The in­ter­net saves us, once again.

You get a jetso, you get a jetso, ev­ery­body gets a jetso

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