There is understandable confusion about Tai Chi terms and names. Much of this is due to the various ways Chinese terms are written in English.
Originally, a system called Wade-Giles was used.
Later, a system called pinyin was developed and it is prevalent today.
For example, the capital city of China used to be written as Peking in the Wade-Giles system, because in that system P’s were pronounced as B’s and K’s were pronounced with a J sound. However, not knowing this, it was pronounced by Westerners as “PayKing.”
In pinyin, the name is written Beijing (“Bay Jing”) which is somewhat clearer. (Bei means north and Jing means capital.)
Both methods are flawed and confusing.
Below I attempt to clarify some Tai Chi terms.
The name in Wade-Giles:
Written T’ai Chi Ch’uan and pronounced “Tie Jee Chwen”.
(Note: Do not be fooled by the “Chi”, i.e., it is NOT pronounced Tie Chee.)
In this system, the T sound is written with a T followed by an apostrophe
(e.g., T’ai Chi) and T without an apostrophe is pronounced as a D,
as in Tofu, (beancurd, “DoughFu”), and Tao (the path, “Dow”), etc.
The name in Pinyin:
TaiJiQuan. This is somewhat better, but the “Quan” is still confusing.
The name for vital energy in Wade-Giles:
“Ch’i” is the word for energy, breath, vital force.
It is pronounced “Chee” and not to be confused with the name, T’ai Chi, “Tie Jee.”
Part of the confusion is because Ch’i is frequently written without the apostrophe.
Unfortunately, some sources confuse the two and claim that the name includes the energy word, but it does not. Also, I’ve seen some online sources who claim that the name is pronounced “Tie Chee”, but this is not correct.
The vital energy in Pinyin:
“Qi” (energy, breath, vital force) is not much of an improvement.
In pinyin, Q’s are pronounced with a CH sound. “Chee”
All language is fluid, of course, and it is the meaning and not the spelling that is important. Whereas, I used to be a stickler for those apostrophes, etc., now I prefer to use the term that best conveys the meaning and the sound. Therefore, I now mostly use Tai Chi Chuan for the name and Chi and/or Qi for the energy (which frequently gives the opportunity to launch into the above translation explanation).
Photo: Sky reflections in Tear Coat Creek, Hampshire County, West Virginia.
Photo by Warren D. Conner, copyright, 2017, all rights reserved.