Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The 'Pariah' Needs a 'Cummerbund': More Indian/English

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, there are many Hindustani words that have entered English as it is spoken today within India. But a number of Hindustani words have also entered general use in the main stream of the English language -- i.e., as it is spoken in Britain, North America, Anglophone Africa and the Caribbean, and Australia.

Some of the words in the following list will be well-known. Others, I hope, will be surprises:

shampoo, pajamas, pundit, cashmere, veranda, pariah, thug, cummerbund, rattan, shawl, loot, punch, jungle, khaki, calico, cushy, dinghy, dungaree, juggernaut, bungalow, bandana, toddy, chintz

This list doesn't include words like "curry," "chutney," "masala," or "chai," which are still pretty closely attached to their original Hindustani meaning even when used in English.

It's interesting that so many of the words in the above list are names for cloth or items of clothing; it tells you something about the importance of Indian textiles in the British Raj: Pajamas, cashmere, calico, rattan, shawl, dungaree, bandana, chintz. (Though it's worth noting that words denoting a type of cloth entered the English language before the start of the Raj; these cloths were being shipped to and sold in England in the early 1600s.)

I also think that architecture/housing style -- reflected in words like "bungalow" and "veranda" -- tells us something about how the British might have approached living in India a little differently. "Veranda" in particular is interesting -- the concept of the wrap-around porch did not exist, I think, in architecture in England. But it's a helpful feature in the long, hot, subcontinental summer.

It makes for a nice metaphor: the British ruled India from the Veranda. In one sense, at least, this might be literally true: for many years they moved the entire colonial administration to Simla in the summertime, to avoid the heat. Simla -- Delhi's veranda. (Perhaps a step further: The British ruled India from the Veranda, while wearing pajamas!)

As many readers may know, quite a long list of words like these were compiled in the Hobson-Jobson dictionary (Hobson-Jobson: A Glossary of Anglo-Indian Words; 1886), by Colonel Henry Yule and A.C. Burnell. The dictionary has actually been put online, and is freely accessible here. (Read the introduction)

One finds, from browsing, quite a number of words that seem like they are essentially straightforward Hindi-Urdu (Hindustani), which perhaps tells us something about the extent to which the British administration 'went Indian'. (However, it's worth noting that only a handful of Hobson-Jobson words finally ended up in the main stream of the English language.)

The dictionary is partly of interest because the entries are so idiosyncratic, bordering at times on the bizarre. The dictionary strongly bears the mark of the personality of its authors, which makes for a bad reference text, but fun browsing. I find the entries for words like Roc, Rum, Rupee, Ganja, Hubble-bubble, Chuckaroo, and Cuscuss particularly interesting/amusing. (Any other suggestions?)

We can also repeat the above list, with some words linking through to Hobson-Jobson:

shampoo, pajamas, pundit, cashmere, veranda, pariah, thug, cummerbund, rattan, shawl, loot, punch, jungle, khaki, calico, cushy, dinghy, dungaree, juggernaut, bungalow, bandana, toddy, chintz

Check out "Shampoo" in particular. Turns out the name comes not from the soap, but from the kind of kneading/masssage associated with it.

SHAMPOO (p. 821) , v. To knead and press the muscles with the view of relieving fatigue, &c. The word has now long been familiarly used in England. The Hind. verb is champna, from the imperative of which, champo, this is most probably a corruption, as in the case of Bunow, Puckerow, &c. The process is described, though not named, by Terry, in 1616: "Taking thus their ease, they often call their Barbers, who tenderly gripe and smite their Armes and other parts of their bodies instead of exercise, to stirre the bloud. It is a pleasing wantonnesse, and much valued in these hot climes." (In Purchas, ii. 1475). The process was familiar to the Romans under the Empire, whose slaves employed in this way were styled tractator and tractatrix. [Perhaps the earliest reference to the practice is in Strabo (McCrindle, Ancient India, 72).] But with the ancients it seems to have been allied to vice, for which there is no ground that we know in the Indian custom.

1800. -- "The Sultan generally rose at break of day: after being champoed, and rubbed, he washed himself, and read the Koran for an hour." -- Beatson, War with Tippoo, p. 159.

[1810. -- "Shampoeing may be compared to a gentle kneading of the whole person, and is the same operation described by the voyagers to the Southern and Pacific ocean." -- Wilks, Hist. Sketches, Madras reprint, i. 276.]

1813. -- "There is sometimes a voluptuous- ness in the climate of India, a stillness in nature, an indescribable softness, which soothes the mind, and gives it up to the most delightful sensations: independent of the effects of opium, champoing, and other luxuries indulged in by oriental sensualists.' -- Forbes, Or. Mem. i. 35; [2nd ed. i. 25.]

Think about that the next time you wash your hair, hm?

* * *
And of course, all of this was in the air again recently because of the release of the Second Revised Edition of the Oxford Dictionary of English, which Manish posted about a couple of weeks ago. Of course, many of the Indian English words that have been added to the dictionary ("bindaas": uppity, rude) are still mostly "regional" -- limited mainly to India, or even particular regions in India.

Manish linked to articles about the ODE in the Times of India, the Statesman, and the Telegraph.
There was also an article about the new dictionary in a Welsh newspaper called icWales, celebrating the inclusion of the Welsh word "cwtch" (no idea how to pronounce this), which means: "1. a cupboard or cubbyhole. 2. a cuddle or hug."


tilotamma said...

Amardeep - I am part of a conversational Sanskrit table and we were taking about elephants one day.

In Sanskrit the word for the ceremonial contraption for kings etc. to sit on the elephant (essentially a roof but they could see through all the sides) was Verandakah........

I guess that is related to verandah as wrap-around porches too..

tilotamma said...

Catamaran (kattu + maram - tied logs..) from Tamil .....

teji said...

The meaning of the word "bindaas' is carefree and is used in bombaiyya hindi

arZan said...


Great post. I loved reading it. Have referenced it on my blog here with a little take on "English is a veryyyyy phunnnny language"

Rohin said...

This and your post the other day Amardeep are great - I love reeling off lists of Indian English words. But here are some I thought you may be interested to hear - all slang.

The first one is a bit contentious - "Low me some dollar". As far as I know this started in London. Some say it's from the Hindi 'give' - 'laow', but I think it's most probably from 'Allow'. Moving on...

"Where are you off to? Out on the chor no doubt." This one is much clearer - meaning "out stealing", used in the South of England (not many Asians curiously), from Hindi - 'chor' - thief.

Lastly a new one, from East London. 'Nang', meaning nice or good. "Damn dat gal is NANG man!" which apparently comes from the large Bangladeshi community. It means nothing in Bengali, I can tell you that, but they're mostly Syhetis - so perhaps in their language it means something.

Bong Breaker

Manorama said...

Great post, really enjoyed this.

Amardeep said...

Bong Breaker,

My favorite is "out on the chor." That should be the subtitle for my career as a blogger.

And Tilo, thanks for mentioning Catamaran. I'd heard it mentioned as a Tamil word before, but it doesn't come up in the usual lists (the usual Hindi/Hindustani bias, perhaps?).

Incidentally, the Hobson-Jobson for "Catamaran" is here:

Tam. kattu, 'binding,' maram, 'wood.' A raft formed of three or four logs of wood lashed together. The Anglo-Indian accentuation of the last syllable is not correct.

I think it's funny that they felt they needed to mention that it's not catamarAN but probably more like cataMARan. (Not that I know Tamil, or as Pennathur would say, "Tamizh," well enough to say...)

Sakshi said...

Just wanted to say that word 'curry' is also reffered as a nick name for calling Indians & Pakistanis in Australia.

Karthik said...

A friend of mine told me that cash was derived from the Tamil word Kasu, and Hobson-Jobson seems to confirm it, kind of.

Thanks for the post.

uncleji said...

Sorry Boingy my son
"Nang" is a term from Gangsta Rap.
Your right on button with chor though.

There seems to some evidence that the appearance of Indian culture on Prime Time British TV and Pop Culture is spreading Indian loan words. I heard many White English using chuddis etc far from any Asian populations.

Bizzarely there seems to be a new accent developing especially in the Punjabi dominanted West London which is a punjabi + cockney combing into a very flat but instantly recogisable tone.

tilotamma said...

Yup it must be that hindustani bias - I almost did not send catamaran in because that's what you wanted I thought but then I saw the Pariah in the title...

uncleji said...

Maybe of use in wider teaching of English. BBC sponsered the largest and most comprehensive research into the English dialects :

There is a set of radio programmes on the web, but I don't think you need me to clog up the your in box with any more links :(

Michael Higgins said...

Hi Amardeep
I am no linguist but I know that there are many English words that derive from ancient Sanskrit. For example orange - naranji and most surprisingly sugar - sharkara.

Rohin said...

Uncleji, I'm just going by what BBC London said about nang. Personally I've not heard it all that much.

I remember when GGM was at its peak, I was on the District line when a bunch of exclusively white 8 year old chav sprog were singing Brimful of Asha and shouting kiss mah chuddies! It was a confusingly proud moment.

uncleji said...

No worries Boing/Gupta (nice guptastar site, but i thought you were going to be blogging via daily rhino ?)

The More I look at its origin of nang the more confusing it gets :) I've counted at a handful of different explainations from hip hop to nitro oxide inhalation. I get the feeling that the Bangla teenager "subjects" were having a laugh at the expense of the academic researchers !

Are going to include words which are neither english or indian but have been created by Asians I been
freshie = a newly arrived indian.
or my fav mingerjit ?

uncleji said...

According Asian Network :
Filmi & bhelpuri are in the OED

Amardeep said...


Thanks especially for the BBC link -- might come in handy when teaching.

The thing about both the OED and the single-volume ODE that has just been released is, they are too inclusive to be helpful. I'm not surprised to hear that a word like "bhelpuri" is in the OED, but the vast majority of Americans (at least) will still never have heard of it. You might get 10-20 percent recognition if you said "Paneer" or "Naan," but even the food words are a little specialized -- not quite mainstream.

Owen said...

I wondered about your inclusion of rattan in the clothing textiles list. It's much more familiar as the cane used to make wickerwork furniture.

Vibhu said...

Some more words with Tamil origins:

1.Cheroot from "Churuttu" or "Suruttu". Meaning cigar in Tamil.

2.Mulligatawny from "Milagu thanni". Literally, "pepper water".

larry brown said...

Interesting. I had been looking up Hobson Jobson and noted the comments.
I think the Hobson Jobson crystalises in the satirical section of 'Goodness Gracious Me'

Shampoo-Indian! Verandah-Indian! Superman-Indian--Latrine Boy etc etc. Hilarious!

Growing up in Belfast we called cats 'Beelies' I wonder is this a legacy of troops returning or is it a Hobson Jobson. Best Wishes. Larry Brown in Australia.

Vivek said...

"teji said...
The meaning of the word "bindaas' is carefree and is used in bombaiyya hindi"

It entered bambaiya hindi from Marathi. The original word is bindhaast. 'Bin' means "without"; 'dhaast' is an adjectival backformation from 'dhaasti', meaning fear or apprehension. 'Carfree' is a dilution of the original sense