pid·​gin ˈpi-jən How to pronounce pidgin (audio)
: a simplified speech used for communication between people with different languages
pidginization noun
pidginize transitive verb

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The History of Pidgin

The history of pidgin begins in the early 19th century in the South China city of Guangzhou. Chinese merchants interacting with English speakers on the docks in this port adopted and modified the word business in a way that, by century's end, had become pidgin. The word itself then became the descriptor of the unique communication used by people who speak different languages. Pidgins generally consist of small vocabularies (Chinese Pidgin English has only 700 words), but some have grown to become a group's native language. Examples include Sea Island Creole (spoken in South Carolina's Sea Islands), Haitian Creole, and Louisiana Creole. The word pidgin also gave us one particular meaning of pigeon—the one defined as "an object of special concern" or "accepted business or interest," as in "Tennis is not my pigeon."

Examples of pidgin in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Teni’s music is often optimistic, if not in its lively production, then in her lyrics about the trials and triumphs of love and life, sung in Nigerian pidgin, Yoruba, and its Ondo dialect. Mankaprr Conteh, Rolling Stone, 21 Nov. 2023 The dialogue in both sections, sprinkled like parsley with pidgin Yiddish and Hebrew prayer, has a secondhand aura that is also unconvincing. Jesse Green, New York Times, 16 Feb. 2023 Ijaw, pidgin and Yoruba in addition to English. Yomi Kazeem, Quartz Africa, 9 Dec. 2020 The language is a high-modernist juxtaposition of street urchin pidgin, Yiddish English and finely observed free indirect discourse — New York’s voice is plural. New York Times, 30 June 2022 ClayRocksU excels at something similar, fusing Igbo language and local pidgin folk elements with punk rock. Ama Udofa, Rolling Stone, 19 June 2022 With the song — a feel-good tune sung in Nigerian pidgin and blending punk rock, Afrobeats, and folk — Okorocha and Co. are also attempting to challenge the negative stereotypes attached to rock music in this part of the world. Ama Udofa, Rolling Stone, 19 June 2022 But Amazon expects this person to be well connected with the Nigerian film industry, already boasting relationships with top creators, fluency in Nigerian pidgin and one or more indigenous languages. Alexander Onukwue, Quartz, 11 Apr. 2022 Ed Sheeran takes over the second verse with lyrics peppered with upbeat pidgin and interlaced with words from Yoruba which forms the lyrics of the original song. Nelson C.j., Rolling Stone, 27 Dec. 2021 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'pidgin.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


pidgin English

First Known Use

1869, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of pidgin was in 1869


Dictionary Entries Near pidgin

Cite this Entry

“Pidgin.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


pid·​gin ˈpij-ən How to pronounce pidgin (audio)
: a simplified speech used for communication by people who speak different languages

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