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16 English words with an Indian past

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Can you believe that – Anaconda comes from ‘aanai kondan’, Blighty was born out of ‘vilayati’ and ‘Jagannath’ became Juggernaut in English

English maybe a language gifted or rather imposed upon us during our time as the jewel in the imperial crown. We still managed to enrich another language, as it began borrowing its origins from words which were either – Hindi, Sanskrit, Bengali or any other Indian language. There are numerous words that we as English speakers use a in our daily parlance and from them a great many have their roots in our vernacular languages.

English, as a cliché is commonly known as a language which does not shy from deriving or evolving or rather inventing words with the help of foreign languages. It is a language which is constantly evolving and re-inventing itself. Over the centuries, several words of Indian origins have sneaked into the English language.


Today we present to you, some interesting words which you may or may not know as having Indian origins. The presence of many of these words dates back to the British Raj.

Anaconda

The origin of this word has interesting and captivating origins. In the southern state of Tamil Nadu, snakes are commonly found and where there are the snakes the fear of snakes will also be relevant. There was a time, when people thought large snakes could swallow or eat elephant’s whole. It (snake) was locally known as, ‘aanai kondan’ which translates to elephant killer. This word eventually got anglicized to refer to the South American reptile – Anaconda. Quite puzzling isn’t it!

Ginger

It comes from a Malayalam word in Kerala, travels through Greek and Latin into Old French and Old English, and then the word and plant becomes a global commodity. In the 15th Century, it was introduced into the Caribbean and African continent and it grew in popularity. Hence, the word, the plant and the spice spread across the world. Word Origin from Pali, ‘singivera’ – Dravidian origin.

Mango and Curry

The Portuguese conquest of Goa dates back to the 16th Century, mango and curry, both came to us via Portuguese – mango began as ‘mangai’ in Malayalam and Tamil, entered Portuguese as ‘manga’ and then English with an ‘o’ ending. So, here to an Indian origin is at play. The word curry came from the herb ‘curry leaves’ and the spices employed in making curry came to be known as curry masala or curry power. In the European sense of curry it can be any dish which tempers spices with a thick or semi-thick gravy – popular from the day’s of British Raj.

Cashmere

The soft, smooth shawls with intricate designs in various colours find their name dating back to the 1680s, christened by the old spelling of the Himalayan state Kashmir, where wool for this garment came from long-haired goats.

Shawl

This is another word which has Indian origins. It originates in Persian, and then travels into India via Urdu and Hindi and then entered the English language. Early 17th century: from Urdu and Persian šāl, probably from Shāliāt, the name of a town in India.

Blighty

This word is more common in England, rather than India. It’s usually used by expat Brits referring to Britain and the homeland as in ‘Good ol’ Blighty’ but it comes from the Urdu word for foreigner or European, ‘vilayati’. So it’s been changed and used as a homage by the British and eventually has become part of the English language.

Pyjamas

These are loose fitting cotton trousers. The word entered English in the 19th century. It derives from the Hindi word ‘payjamah’, meaning leg (pay) and clothing (jamah).

Loot

Loot, which means stolen money or valuables, and as a verb acts as a synonym for steal, comes from the similar-sounding Hindi word ‘loot’  which, as we know, means – to rob. This was probably picked up in the British Raj.

Prepone

This word is an ingenious word invented by Indians and Pakistanis in the business lexicon, it is considered as the opposite to postpone- bring (something) forward to an earlier date or time. Prepone – is probably the most famous Indian coined word of all time. It seems to be very convenient. For Example: We can prepone the meeting from 11 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Khaki

Khaki is a well known cloth around the world. Deriving its name from the urdu word ‘khaki’ meaning dust-coloured cloth, it originally comes from khak, meaning dust in Persian.

Tiffin

This is an Indian English word for a light midday meal (luncheon), when used for “lunch”; it is not necessarily a light meal. In the British Raj when the local Indian custom of taking a light meal superseded the British practice of an afternoon tea, tiffin became the word used to describe this practice.

Juggernaut

In English, a juggernaut is an unstoppable force or movement that sweeps aside or destroys anything in its path. In the UK it is also used to refer to very large lorries (trucks). The word arrived in English in the 19th century and derives from the word Jagannath, a form of the Hindu deity Vishnu.

Shampoo

Today, Shampoo has become synonymous with the ritual of lathering one’s hair with a liquid soap or soap its origins are somewhere closer to those lines. It arrived in English in the 18th century and derives from the Hindi word ‘champo’, meaning to squeeze, knead or massage

Sugar and Candy

Sugar as a word has its roots in Sanskrit. In Latin, it was called ‘succarum’, which in turn was derived from Arabic – ‘sukkarand’ which was in turn derived from the Persian word ‘shakar’, which originally was from the Sanskrit word ‘sharkara’ . Whoa! Who knew? Speaking about sweet stuff, Candy too is derived from the Sanskrit word – Khanda, which travelled to Persia and was known in France as ‘Sucre Candi’ and was then anglicized as Candy in Britain.

Sulfur

Ancient Indians knew of a chemical, which they called ‘Sulvari’. In Latin, it turned into Sulfur.

Eight and One

These numbers are said to be derived from the Tamil counterparts of yettu and onru. Numbers themselves were an Indian contribution to the words; the Arabs introduced them to Europe while trading with them, though they learn the concept from Ancient Indians.

In conclusion, the English language is a wondrous and effectively open language, which twists and turns words of other languages and modifies them to suit their sensibilities. A vast vocabulary of words to be learnt; along with idioms and phrases which continue to gobsmack, hoodwink, and confound us with a plethora of the amazing treasure of the literary universe.

(Compiled by Christopher Rodrigues, source: rediff, sandrova, dailywriting tips)