from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.
- noun A situation or activity marked by confusion or disorder.
- noun A prank in which the people riding in a car get out and change seats when stopped at a traffic light.
from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.
- noun A
prankperformed while stopped in a car at a red-light; each passenger (including the driver) shouts "Chinese fire drill", exits the vehicle, runs at least once around it, then re-enters, taking a different seat.
- noun derogatory A silly, pointless exercise.
from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition
[Probably from earlier military slang Chinese, clumsy, inept (a derogatory epithet based on racist notions of Chinese inferiority), later reinforced by such derogatory expressions as Chinese ace, inept pilot (from a joke in which the phrase one wing low was interpreted as a Chinese name ).]
from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License
Perhaps from the WWI era, from the British practice of using Chinese as a slur; now used only as a festive exclamation.
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