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FAQ 6. "I Need A Unified Set of Mah-Jongg Terms!"

Or: "I've been reading [book X or website Y], and the terms they use in that book or website don't match the terms I hear from my play group or see on the mah-jongg newsgroup. Is there a 'Mah-Jongg Rosetta Stone' so I can make sense of it all?"

The purpose of this FAQ is to help readers make sense of the different terminology systems used by different mah-jongg authors. This is not a mah-jongg dictionary; no definitions are given. Just different terms used to mean the same thing.

In making this "Rosetta Stone," I have mainly used English-language books (with the main exception of the listings for Dutch- and Japanese- and Chinese-language terms), and only those books which I have managed to put my hands on at the time of writing. I have also included the terms used by selected Internet authors, and by the game Shanghai Dynasty -- if authors of other "true" Mah-Jongg games want their terms included, I'll gladly add those.

If a term is shown with multiple terms, the first term is the one primarily used in that system, and the one(s) in parentheses are the alternate terms mentioned at least once in the book.

There is an author key at the end of this article.

MAH-JONGG (how the authors spell "mah-jongg")
(Note: It is also interesting (or perhaps just confusing?) to consider ma3diao4/ma3tiao4/ma2ch'iao3 (JIS 474F, 445F) - the name of a significant card game which preceded the tile game of mah-jongg)


THE SUITS (Cantonese: "zi;" Japanese: "zu;" Dutch: "kleuren"; IMJ: "serials")




DRAGONS (Note: the use of the word "dragons" for these tiles is strictly a Western practice. Most Asian players do not call these tiles "dragons")







"HONORS" (if word is used by author, how "Honors" are defined by author)

FLOWER (the four Flower tiles)

SEASON (the four Season tiles)












* Remarks Alan Kwan: The reason that there seems to be no standard term for the Japanese/New Style yaku concept in other languages is because the concept is not very emphasised in Chinese Classical or HKOS mahjong. CC and HKOS have only a few "Limit Hands", and there are very few below-limit yaku; the yaku were referred to by name, and there was no word for referring to the yaku collectively. Maybe this entry should really be separated into two entries -- one for yaku and one for "limit hands"/yakuman. This has always been one of the most confusing terminology issues in mah-jongg.

** In creating this section of the FAQ, I initially used the term "special hand" rather loosely to refer to high-scoring hands or to features of hands that add value. But since various kinds of mah-jongg use different concepts, the term cannot really be applied universally. I like Wu's use of the term "features" to define the particular aspects of a hand which give it value. Same meaning as the term "entities" as used by Tjoa. I would not be terribly insulted if readers merely ignored the previous section without bothering to read it! (^_^)





Note: other terms could also be listed for the sake of completeness, but to make a list of standard terms would go beyond the scope of the original intent of this FAQ. Perhaps another FAQ should be written on the topic of "a standard list of terms." As can be seen above, different terms apply to different variant games. So there would be a lot of asterisks.


Babcock -- J. P. Babcock, the man who first introduced Mah-Jongg to the Western world (see FAQ 11). His rule book (see books FAQ) is out of print, but can often be found for auction on eBay.

Barr -- Jenn Barr, a professional player in Japan. She has two websites: and Jenn's Heavenly World.

Bell -- R.C. Bell, from his book "Board and Table Games from Many Civilizations" (see books FAQ).

BMJA -- Headley & Seeley's book (see books FAQ) purports to have been produced in association with the British Mah-Jong Association. But the BMJA is not exactly a governing body; it may have been created merely to give the book added cachet.

Carkner -- K. J. Carkner's book describes Western, Chinese, and even a little bit about Classical Japanese (see books FAQ).

Constantino -- Benny Constantino (his book describes HKOS; see books FAQ).

Dutch(FN) -- Mah-Jongg newsgroup regular Feico Nater kindly provided me with this Dutch terminology. Feico plays Chinese Classical mah-jongg, thus his game does not include terms associated with practices used only in other forms of mah-jongg.

Dutch(PG) -- Newsgroup regular Peter Gallagher uses a few different terms from Feico.

Dutch(MR) -- Newsgroup regular and internet mah-jongg newspaperman Martin Rep likewise uses different terms; Martin plays not only Chinese Classical but also Hong Kong Old Style and Japanese Modern.

Glass -- Thomas G. Glass, Jr., M.D. - his book describes Western mah-jongg.

Huang -- Wei-Hwa Huang's rules for Japanese MJ can be found listed in the websites FAQ.

Japanese -- This is, to the best of my knowledge, a listing of the terms as used by Japanese players.

K & F -- Kanai & Farrell (their book describes Classical Japanese; see books FAQ).

Kohnen -- Dieter Kohnen (his new book describes Chinese Classical; see books FAQ).

Li -- David Li (his book describes HKOS, but he says I'm wrong to say so; see books FAQ).

Lo -- Amy Lo (her book describes Taiwanese, HKOS, New Style, and 12-Tile mah-jongg; see books FAQ).

Mhing -- MJ card game published by Suntex International Inc., Easton, Pennsylvania (see the kards FAQ). The Mhing rules are roughly similar to the New Style game, with jokers, or to the Western game, with no Charleston.

Miller -- Scott D. Miller (his book describes Japanese riichi/dora majan; see books FAQ).)

Millington -- A. D. Millington (his book describes Chinese Classical; see books FAQ).

MJM -- This abbreviation refers to the Mah-Jongg Museum in Chiba, Japan. Specifically, the book SEKAI MAJAN 2000 ("World Mah-Jongg 2000"), which describes Chinese Official rules in three languages (English, Japanese, Chinese). The MJM also publishes a very short version, COMPETITION MAHJONG OFFICIAL INTERNATIONAL RULEBOOK, which doesn't refer to most of the terms listed. When possible, both books are quoted; see books FAQ).

NMJL -- National Mah Jongg League (see books FAQ).

OCOCCMJ -- The Organizing Committee of the Open Competition of Chinese MaJiang (Chinese Official / International Standard rules)

P & C -- Perlmen & Chan (their book describes HKOS and also Shanghai New Style; see books FAQ).

Pritchard -- David Pritchard is a games consultant and former games director of the Mind Sports Olympiad, and is the former editor-in-chief of Games & Puzzles magazine. His first book described Western mah-jongg; see books FAQ).

Robertson -- Max Robertson describes Western Mah-Jongg (see books FAQ).

S & E -- Strauser & Evans (their book describes the vanilla Western game; see books FAQ).

Shanghai -- The line of games I produced when I worked at Activision (see the boilerplate below, and see FAQ 4a).

T & M -- Thompson & Maloney (their books describe the vanilla Western game; see books FAQ).

Tjoa -- Tong Seng Tjoa, M.D., describes New Style mah-jongg in most of his books; see books FAQ).

Tsui-IMJ -- Cofa Tsui's "International Mahjong" originated in the 1990's and you can find the website in the websites FAQ.

Tsui-WUMT -- Cofa Tsui's "World Unified Mahjong Terminology" (version 060610), website at In 2006, Tsui has apparently begun to yield to standard terminology but still has a ways to go.

Walters -- Derek Walters (his book tells how to tell fortunes with MJ tiles; see books FAQ).

Whitney -- Eleanor Whitney (her book describes Classical Japanese, Chinese, and Western; see books FAQ).

Willoughby -- Steve Willoughby (his website describes the Taiwanese game; it is listed in the websites FAQ ).

WPAFB -- Wright-Patterson Officers' Wives' Club rules (similar to vanilla Western) are available by mail; (see books FAQ).

Wu -- Chung Wu's book describes New Style mah-jongg; (see books FAQ).

"Preferred" -- Tom Sloper (author of this "Rosetta Stone" FAQ) prefers and recommends these terms, and holds them to be the most widely accepted, "standard" terms in use throughout the English-speaking mah-jongg world.


The old text-format version of the FAQ had to use encodings to enable display of Chinese and Japanese characters. Now that the FAQ is in HTML format, I use images or Unicode to display the Chinese and Japanese characters.

Cantonese Jyut Ping -- A system for Romanizing the Chinese characters as used in Hong Kong and the surrounding area. The numbers indicate the vocal inflection or tone for speaking the word. Analogous to Mandarin Pinyin (below).

Cantonese Big5 -- A system for encoding the many Chinese characters, for use by computers.

Chinese Official GB -- Another system for encoding Chinese characters for use by computers.

Japanese JIS -- A system for encoding the many Japanese and Chinese characters in use in Japanese writing, for use in computer documents.

Mandarin Pinyin -- A system for Romanizing the Chinese characters used in China and Taiwan. The numbers indicate the vocal inflection or tone for speaking the word. Analogous to Cantonese Jyut Ping (above).

Gaan -- Refers to the Chinese-language book "Hoi Toi" by Mr. Gaan Ji-Cing ("Hoi1 Toi2"; Gaan2 Ji4 Cing1 or Kan Yi Ching) (see books FAQ), specifically marked only when the usage is somewhat different from common usage (i.e. when in common usage the term is often used to mean something else).

Many of the Chinese terms were kindly supplied by Alan Kwan, who writes:

If any Cantonese/Chinese (or otherwise) reader thinks that I have got some of the info wrong, please do not hesitate to point it out. Especially, I'm not sure about whether the Jyut Ping tones (numerals) are correct, since for those I don't have any source other than the pronunciation I'm speaking. In particular, it is very likely that I have mixed up some 2 and 5 tones.

In Cantonese, we don't have very reliable sources for the correct word to be written, and we often just write what we word think the sound should stand for. (After all, we seldom write anything about the game, we only talk about it.) For example, for "going out", though we all say "Wu2", it is disputable whether the correct (original) written word should be "Wu2", "Wu4", or "Wo4". Such uncertain instances are marked with "?".

It should be mentioned that in the case of the Chinese and Japanese terms, if the terms in parenthesis are in English, that indicates the English meaning of the word.

To any readers wanting to send me additional Chinese or Japanese characters or encodings: Please put the encodings in a text-only file and Email the file to me as an attachment. Putting encodings into the body of an E-mail does not work. You could also send me the Unicode - my email program might not garble that too much (in a text file would be safer). You can learn the Unicode for any character by using the free online converter at (copy and paste that into your browser's address box - site requires Internet Explorer). It would be great if you could also send a small image file illustrating the character, if you can.

Early partial update log:
March 22, 1999 -- added Carkner and Robertson.
March 27, 1999 -- added Mhing.
April 5, 1999 -- added BMJA.
October 31, 1999 -- changed my spelling from "pong" to "pung" to go along with the majority.
November 10, 1999 -- modified Japanese terms per Kazuo Ito; added several new sections.
November 15, 1999 -- added Cantonese, Chinese, and Japanese JIS. Thanks to Alan Kwan, Cofa Tsui, and Wei-Hwa Huang.
November 16, 1999 -- corrected the Chinese encodings key and added text
about displaying the encodings.
November 19, 1999 -- re-pasted the encodings, using text editor this time.
November 23, 1999 -- made some minor changes regarding some IMJ terms.
July 8, 2000 -- added Dutch terms per recent newsgroup posts. I'll probably still catch grief.
July 16, 2000 -- yep, sure enough, caught more grief, so added Dutch terms used differently by newsgroup regulars Feico Nater, Peter Gallagher, and Martin Rep, differentiating between them. Scattered touchups in the introductory paragraphs.
September 29, 2000 -- changed FAQ URL from to
October 18, 2000 -- corrected the FAQs' URL
December 8, 2000 -- changed FAQ URL to
September 16, 2001 -- minor mod to FAQ URL; deleted defunct Vega links in sig below; hope I didn't break any of the encodings (this file is very difficult to edit due to the special encodings)
December 21, 2001 -- converted FAQ to HTML format. Added Amy Lo.
April 9, 2002 -- updated the mahjongmuseum URL.
July 15, 2002 -- updates are now logged at log.html.

Copyright 2000, 2010, 2017, 2021 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved. Reproduction of this and my other FAQs by written permission only.

Shanghai is a registered trademark of Activision, Inc. Copyright 1986-1999 Activision.

IMJ and International Mahjong, and the terms used in International Mahjong, are trademarks of the author of International Mahjong Rules. Copyright 1991, 1998 by Cofa Tsui.

The opinions expressed herein and in the other FAQs are my own.