The Bactra Review   The Languages of China
This mis-understanding seems in part to have arisen because while Chinese (like many languages, e.g. Serbo-Croatian) has no a word corresponding to ``word,'' it does have one closely matching ``syllable,'' namely zi. (As Ramsey says, it corresponds even more closely to the linguistic term ``morpheme,'' the shortest linguistic unit which has a meaning of its own.) Multisyllabic words are actually common, but almost always each syllable is meaningful on its own, and the meaning of the entire word is general related to that of its components. Ramsey gives some very amusing examples of this in the case of loan-words:
In the 1930s, when Coca-Cola first began marketing its product in China, the company sponsored a highly publicized contest to find a suitable Chinese name for its soft drink. The winning name, submitted by a man from Shanghai, was kekou-kele. This name not only reproduced the English sounds fairly accurately, but the individual syllables put together also had the elegantly-phrase meaning `tasty and enjoyable.' [Not ``bite the wax tadpole.'' CRS] For this linguistic tour de force the winner received a $50 cash prize.... The linguist Y. R. Chao himself coined the playful Chinese name of the martini, matini `horse-kicks-you.' The miniskirt is a miniqun --- a `fascinate you skirt.' Leida `radar' is `thunder-reach'; tuolaji `tractor' is `haul-pull-machine'; ximingnaer `seminar' is `review-understand-accept-like that.' [p. 60]