any of various small boats of the Far East, as one propelled by a single scull over the stern and provided with a roofing of mats.

Origin of sampan

First recorded in 1610–20, sampan is from the Chinese word sānbǎn three-plank (boat), or < cognate dial. forms Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for sampan

Historical Examples of sampan

  • "We are men of his company and we have news for him," returned the speaker in the sampan.

    The Monster Men

    Edgar Rice Burroughs

  • Twenty-five bags of rice would be coming off in a sampan directly, for stores.


    Joseph Conrad

  • Before the sampan passed out of the lagoon into the creek he lifted his eyes.

    Tales of Unrest

    Joseph Conrad

  • The juragan of the boat said sulkily, "We will cook in the sampan, and sleep on the water."

    Tales of Unrest

    Joseph Conrad

  • The heads were all put in the sampan, and they made a full load for it.

British Dictionary definitions for sampan



any small skiff, widely used in the Orient, that is propelled by oars or a scull

Word Origin for sampan

C17: from Chinese san pan, from san three + pan board
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for sampan

light Chinese boat, 1610s, from Chinese san pan, literally "three boards," from san "three" + pan "plank."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper