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Posted by on Jan 30, 2018 in Tell Me Why |

How Did Mahjong Get Its Name?

How Did Mahjong Get Its Name?

Mahjong is probably of 19th Century origin. It is a Western version of a Chinese game and is played with 136 to 144 pieces or tiles, similar to dominoes. These are engraved with Chinese symbols and characters and divided into suits and honors. The object of the four players is to complete combinations or sets of these tiles.

The name Mahjong was coined and copyrighted by Joseph P. Babcock, a United States resident of Shanghai, who is credited with introducing the game to the West after the First World War. He wrote a modified set of rules and gave English titles to the tiles and added index letters and numerals familiar to Western card players.

His game became a craze in the United States, Britain and Australia in the mid 1920s. It was revived in 1935 but did not regain its earlier popularity. The words Mahjong signify a mythical bird which appears on one of the tiles.

In Chinese, the game was originally called (pinyin: máquè)—meaning sparrow— which is still used in some southern dialects. Most Mandarin-speaking Chinese now call the game (májiàng), which is a homonym of one way to refer to sesame paste. It is pronounced mah-ZHONG in English which is an approximation of the pronunciation in Mandarin.

Mahjong was developed in China since the Qing dynasty and has further developed throughout the world since the early 20th century. It is commonly played by four players (with some three-player variations found in South Korea, Japan and Southeast Asia).

Mahjong, the tile based game and its regional variants

The game and its regional variants are widely played throughout Asia (especially in the Eastern and South Eastern Asia) and have materialized into an Asian culture in relation to its high degree of influence, in addition, they have also been increasingly regarded as a popular pastime and entertainment among Western countries and other parts of the world. Due to its influence and popularity, the game has been adapted into a widespread online entertainment. Similar to the Western card game rummy, Mahjong is a game of skill, strategy, and calculation and involves a degree of chance.

The game is played with a set of 144 tiles based on Chinese characters and symbols, although some regional variations may omit some tiles and/or add unique tiles. In most variations, each player begins by receiving 13 tiles. In turn players draw and discard tiles until they complete a legal hand using the 14th drawn tile to form 4 melds (or sets) and a pair (eye). A player can also win with a small class of special hands.

There are fairly standard rules about how a piece is drawn, how a piece is robbed from another player, the use of simples (numbered tiles) and honors (winds and dragons), the kinds of melds allowed, how to deal the tiles and the order of play. Despite these similarities, there are many regional variations to the rules including rather different scoring systems, criteria for legal winning hands and even private table rules which distinguish some variations as notably different styles of mahjong.

There are many highly varied versions of mahjong both in rules and tiles used. “Old Hong Kong Mahjong” uses the same basic features and rules as the majority of the different variations of the game. This form of Mahjong uses all of the tiles of the most commonly available sets, includes no exotic complex rules and has a relatively small set of scoring sets/hands with a simple scoring system.

Content for this question contributed by Beth Puget, resident of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, USA