man·​da·​rin | \ ˈman-d(ə-)rən How to pronounce mandarin (audio) \

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 How to pronounce mandarin (audio) \ adjective
mandarinism \ ˈman-​d(ə-​)rə-​ˌni-​zəm How to pronounce mandarin (audio) \ 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

Noun 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 novel follows Xiumi, the daughter of a wealthy landowner who was recently dismissed from his role as a government mandarin. James Mcelroy, Washington Examiner, "A Chinese guide to our cultural revolution," 31 Dec. 2020 Honeybell Also known as a Minneola, this bell-shape fruit is a cross between a Duncan grapefruit and the Dancy mandarin. Jane Black, WSJ, "Why Mail-Order Citrus Is Totally Worth It: A Smart Shopper’s Guide," 17 Dec. 2020 The carved wooden balconies of antique houses leaned protectively above, each one garlanded with chrysanthemums, persimmons and mandarin trees, and adorned with glowing lanterns. Hiroshi Okamoto, Smithsonian Magazine, "The Way of the Shogun," 9 July 2020 All seethed with emotion—the isotope that had gone missing from the mandarin styles of the day, in which carefulness had displaced suggestions of anything worth caring about. Peter Schjeldahl, The New Yorker, "Susan Rothenberg’s Asteroidal Impact on the New York Art World," 20 May 2020 The three-foot-tall semi-dwarf calamondin — a plant native to the Philippines that produces sour, compact orange fruit thought to be a hybrid of a kumquat and a mandarin — has always thrived despite, rather than because of, my attempts at care. New York Times, "The T List: Five Things We Recommend This Week," 16 Apr. 2020 Elvira, who asked to only use her first name, is 27 and has been working in the fields growing mandarins and citrus fruit for four years. Laura Molinari, CBS News, ""We are in trouble": Undocumented farmworkers help feed America but aren't eligible for aid amid coronavirus," 13 Apr. 2020 Most Americans don’t like the buildings that architecture’s mandarins have crammed down their throats. Myron Magnet, WSJ, "Drain the Swamp of Ugly Architecture," 6 Feb. 2020 An extension of the original Elizabeth Arden White Tea fragrance, White Tea Mandarin Blossom still delivers the delicate notes of white tea paired with citrusy top notes from mandarin, lemon, and bergamot. Patricia Shannon, Southern Living, "Elizabeth Arden Is Launching a New Fragrance That Radiates Kindness and Warmth," 11 Apr. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective The sweet-and-sour fish is Cuban pargo (red snapper), not mandarin fish. The Economist, "What a new Chinese restaurant in Havana says about Cuba," 14 Sep. 2019

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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The first known use of mandarin was in 1589

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Last Updated

10 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Mandarin.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Feb. 2021.

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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
: the official language of China


man·​da·​rin | \ ˈman-də-rən How to pronounce mandarin (audio) \

Kids Definition of mandarin

1 : a public official of the Chinese Empire
2 capitalized : the chief dialect of China

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