Mǎi dan or mái dan?
‘I come to buy the bill not to bury it’
The term maidan has become a common way of asking for the bill in Putonghua. In this paper we investigate whether this is the transfer of a Cantonese expression which has been re-interpreted as a Putonghua expression, and thus an example of language change being caused by a mistake or mishearing. The study surveyed Mainland Chinese in a number of settings to elicit their preferred way of asking for the bill. By asking them to write the characters, we were also able to determine whether those whose preferred way of asking for the bill was to say maidan were using the Cantonese or the Putonghua expression. We conclude that, in many contexts, maidan has indeed become the preferred way of calling for the bill, and that the majority of those who use this expression are using the Putonghua ‘buy the bill’ rather than the original Cantonese expression.