“Chinese restaurant syndrome” is still on Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary
For those who may be unaware, the term refers to “a group of symptoms (such as numbness of the neck, arms, and back with headache, dizziness, and palpitations) that is held to affect susceptible persons eating food and especially Chinese food heavily seasoned with monosodium glutamate (MSG),” according to the reference.
Earlier this week, restaurateur/celebrity chef Eddie Huang and TV personality Jeannie Mai (“The Real”) teamed up with Japanese company Ajinomoto to make the definition obsolete, arguing that it only perpetuates racism.
“For me, it’s another thing to point to other people and say ‘Look, if you think racism toward Asians doesn’t exist in this country, like here it is,’” Huang said, according to the Associated Press. “I know how white people see us. ‘They’re cool, they’re acceptable, they’re non-threatening. But they’re weird, their food.’”
Founded in 1908, Ajinomoto is known for manufacturing MSG, salt of the naturally-occurring glutamic acid (or glutamate).
As it gained popularity in America, the condiment sparked concerns of causing a number of adverse physical symptoms, paving the way for “Chinese restaurant syndrome” — a term first used in 1968, according to Merriam-Webster.
“I think that the change in people’s perceptions and their ‘open-mindedness’ towards Chinese food is only happening when it’s packaged and presented to Americans in a way they like,” Huang told NBC News.
Ahead of joining Ajinomoto’s campaign, neither Huang nor Mai had known of the term’s inclusion in the dictionary. They want to “redefine” the term by updating it to note that it is already outdated.
“The dictionary I thought was a reputable kind of Bible that was fact-checked all the way through in order to get us information,” Mai said, according to the Associated Press. “‘Chinese restaurant syndrome’ is truly an outdated, super racist term.”
In a statement, Emily Brewster, senior editor at Merriam-Webster, stressed that no one has reached out in the past to complain about the term. However, they will now be “reviewing this particular entry and will revise it according to the evidence of the term in use.”
“The ongoing evolution of language means that we are in a constant state of revision. Keeping up with it is a challenge, so we are always grateful to readers for pointing us to vocabulary that is in need of review,” Brewster said, according to NBC News. “As usages change, our entries change to reflect those shifts. Our aim is always to provide accurate information about what words mean, which includes providing information about whether a use is offensive or dated.”
Many people might not know this, but NextShark is a small media startup that runs on no outside funding or loans, and with no paywalls or subscription fees, we rely on help from our community and readers like you.
Everything you see today is built by Asians, for Asians to help amplify our voices globally and support each other. However, we still face many difficulties in our industry because of our commitment to accessible and informational Asian news coverage.
We hope you consider making a contribution to NextShark so we can continue to provide you quality journalism that informs, educates, and inspires the Asian community. Even a $1 contribution goes a long way. Thank you for supporting NextShark and our community.