HK Magazine Archive

What Exactly Is a “Jetso”?

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 July, 2016, 12:12pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 5:16pm

A “jetso” is a special offer, a deal, a bargain. It’s a phonetic transcription of the Cantonese phrase jeuk so (著數), which essentially means “advantage” or “profit.” You might better translate it as “freebie”—with a jetso, there’s always a sense that you’re really getting away with something you shouldn’t be, a deal that’s too good to pass up.

But the word “jetso” is one of those that’s never really worked all that well in English. Unlike other Cantonese loan words or phrases such as “ketchup” or “chop suey,” it just doesn’t flow off the tongue—not to mention the fact that there are several words in English which mean the same thing. Sadly, “Jetso” sounds more like a nickname for your Aussie mate than anything else.

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Not that it’s stopped the city from trying to employ it whenever possible. There are plenty of jetso special offers from many a company, and in April 2015 the government announced a new series of discounts aimed at getting the retail-shy people of Hong Kong spending again. Its English name? The “HAPPY @ Hongkong Super JETSO.” Sounds like your Aussie mate Jetso had a good time in the city, then?

Meanwhile, at the Jockey Club—where else?—there have been several horses named after the word: Jetso, Good Jetso, Jetso Delight. The most successful was Jetso himself, boasting six wins and 10 place finishes over a 30-race career between 1985 and 1990. Top three places in more than half of his races—that sounds like a jetso to us.

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Still, the word sticks in the English-speaker’s mouth a little. But just Google “jetso” and everything changes: You’re presented with countless sites full of special offers. And on the internet, more than anywhere else, the word “jetso” works. After all, if you want to run a site full of discounts and deals in Hong Kong, you’ll still need an English URL—so doesn’t “Jetso” make perfect sense? From clunky Chinglish phrase to elegant online solution: The internet saves us, once again.