Is "Chai Tea" Redundant?

Chai means "tea" in Hindi, so when we order "chai tea," we're asking for "tea tea," at least that's what it sounds like to someone from India. Should we expect marketers not to be redundant when they name products?

Mignon Fogarty

chai tea redundant

Sri pointed out that the phrase chai tea is redundant because chai is the Hindi word for “tea.”

Using a foreign word such as chai to market a product in English creates a problem: When the term is introduced, people are unlikely to know that chai means “tea,” yet foreigners who hear us say "chai tea" hear "tea tea" and think we're ridiculous.

Marketers could be more accurate by creating campaigns that explain the meaning of the foreign name. For example, they could say, “Try our chai: a delicious tea made with sugar and spices,” or they could use a more descriptive name such as, "Try our Indian spiced tea." But it's not realistic to think that marketers are always going to go for precision over an exotic-sounding name, and space is often limited in stores and on signs, so it's not surprising that the concept gets shortened to chai tea.

As a result, in America the phrase chai tea has come to mean the particular kind of tea made in the Indian style. (What Americans call chai tea would be more accurately called masala chai―masala is the mix of spices used to flavor the chai.) If you wish to avoid redundancy (and ridicule from your Indian friends), just ask for chai. 

Here are other phrases that seem redundant because the foreign word means the same thing as the English word:

  • Gobi desert (Gobi means "desert" in Mongolian.)
  • Naan bread (Naan is a type of bread in many countries.)
  • Rice pilaf (Pilaf is the name of a rice dish in many countries.)

I'm sure I've missed some; can you think of more examples? If so, leave them in the comments!

Chai photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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