Chinese fire drill

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Chinese fire drill

1. A wild or chaotic situation. Today, this term is often considered offensive. Boy, that meeting quickly devolved into a Chinese fire drill with people just shouting over each other.
2. A prank in which people get out of a car (while it is stopped at a red light) and run around it to change seats. Now that you have your own car, I don't want to hear about you kids doing Chinese fire drills or any other ridiculous things like that.
See also: Chinese, drill, fire

Chinese fire drill

A politically incorrect term for chaos. The phrase supposedly originated in the early 1900s. A ship with British officers and a Chinese crew practiced an engine room fire drill. The bucket brigade drew water from the ship's starboard side, carried it to the engine room, and simulated throwing it on the “fire.” Another crew carried the buckets to the main deck and threw the water over the port side. But when orders became confused in translation, the bucket brigade started to draw the water from the starboard side, run over to the port side, and then throw the water overboard, bypassing the engine room completely. A 1960s stunt was for a carload of teenagers of college students to stop at a red light, whereupon at the command “Chinese fire drill,” driver and passengers got out, ran around the car, and returned to their original seats. The same idea is sometimes heard as the equally politically incorrect “Chinese square dance.”
See also: Chinese, drill, fire