man·​da·​rin | \ˈman-d(ə-)rən \

Definition of mandarin 

(Entry 1 of 2)

1a : a public official in the Chinese Empire of any of nine superior grades

b(1) : a pedantic official

(2) : bureaucrat

c : a person of position and influence often in intellectual or literary circles especially : an elder and often traditionalist or reactionary member of such a circle

2 capitalized

a : a form of spoken Chinese used by the court and the official classes of the Empire

b : the group of closely related Chinese dialects that are spoken in about four fifths of the country and have a standard variety centering about Beijing

3 [ Swedish mandarin (apelsin) mandarin (orange), ultimately from Portuguese mandarim mandarin; perhaps from the color of a mandarin's robes ]

a : a small spiny orange tree (Citrus reticulata) of southeastern Asia with yellow to reddish-orange loose-rinded fruits also : a tree (such as the satsuma) developed in cultivation from the mandarin by selective breeding or hybridization

b : the fruit of a mandarin



Definition of mandarin (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : of, relating to, or typical of a mandarin mandarin graces

2 : marked by polished ornate complexity of language mandarin prose

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Other Words from mandarin


mandarinic \ ˌman-​də-​ˈri-​nik \ adjective
mandarinism \ ˈman-​d(ə-​)rə-​ˌni-​zəm \ noun

Did You Know?


The Portuguese were the first to refer to a Chinese official as a "mandarin." The word hails from the Portuguese word mandarium, which developed from Sanskrit "mantrin," a word for "counselor." Mandarins were promoted by successfully completing the imperial Chinese examination system, which was primarily based on the teachings of Confucian texts. In time, "mandarin" became a word for a pedantic official, a bureaucrat, or a person of position and influence. The noun passed into the English language in 1589, and the adjective appeared about 15 years later. You may also know "Mandarin" as a word for the chief dialect of China or be familiar with the mandarin orange. (The fruit's name comes from the orange color of a mandarin official's robe.)

Examples of mandarin in a Sentence


the officious mandarins in the motor vehicles department refused to let me renew my license without all of the required forms

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

The fare includes more than 40 teas, sandwiches such as slow-braised beef short rib, scones and pastries such as chocolate and mandarin eclairs. Rosemary Mcclure,, "Toast Prince Harry and Meghan Markle at one of London's finest afternoon teas," 13 May 2018 Foreign-policy mandarins are terrified that security alliances are being wrecked. The Economist, "Why corporate America loves Donald Trump," 24 May 2018 Our late-season mandarins – Tahoe, Shasta and Gold Nugget (varieties) – have ripened early and are now prime super-nice. Debbie Arrington, sacbee, "Navel gazing yields king-size results," 26 Jan. 2018 Sun Pacific and the Resnicks’ company previously co-produced seedless mandarins known as Cuties. Andrea Fuller, WSJ, "Pistachio Billionaires’ Foundation Lends Millions to Business Associates," 28 June 2018 Would the palace mandarins have made analyses of her fertility? Lauren Collins, The New Yorker, "Prince Harry, Meghan Markle, and Royal Romance," 11 May 2018 Mr Johnson says the scheme would need a lengthy roll-out period and for mandarins to take a generous, rather than hostile, attitude towards applicants without paperwork. The Economist, "Britain’s Windrush mess revives support for ID cards," 3 May 2018 Hazy IPAs range in character from the mandarin-orange sweetness of Other Half Brewing Co.’s Citra + Azacca to the almost savory, papaya-like fruitiness of WeldWerks Brewing’s Juicy Bits. William Bostwick, WSJ, "The Beers of Summer: Hazy IPAs," 24 May 2018 There were apples, cornbread, muffins, celery, cauliflower and mandarins, but Emery didn’t take anything for himself. Otis R. Taylor Jr., San Francisco Chronicle, "Homeless man in Oakland lives in a box while waiting to move in to a shed," 11 May 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'mandarin.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of mandarin


1589, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


1604, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for mandarin


Portuguese mandarim, from Malay mĕntĕri, from Sanskrit mantrin counselor, from mantra counsel — more at mantra

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Last Updated

15 Oct 2018

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The first known use of mandarin was in 1589

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More Definitions for mandarin



English Language Learners Definition of mandarin

: a small type of orange

: a public official in China in the past

Mandarin : the official language of China


man·​da·​rin | \ˈman-də-rən \

Kids Definition of mandarin

1 : a public official of the Chinese Empire

2 capitalized : the chief dialect of China

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