Words of Indian Origin in the English Language
chillibreeze writer — Mahalakshmi Radhakrishnan
India, just like Greece and Italy, has contributed to the richness of the English language in a significant way. This is proven from the fact that words which have their origins in Indian languages are added every time the world renowned Oxford dictionary releases a new edition. Last year Oxford included 80 Indian words in its 11th Edition of the Concise Dictionary, recognizing the fact that the world’s third-largest English speaking community belongs to India. With this, Oxford has once again proven that they evolve at par with the ever-changing world and its most important language.
Among roughly 355,000 words and phrases in the Oxford dictionary, presently about 700 words find their roots in some of the most ancient and notable Indian languages like Sanskrit, Hindi and Tamil.
Among the 80 new words in the lexicon, are words as varied as ‘badmash’ (a worthless or a clever person), ‘hawala’ (illegal currency exchange), ‘bandh’ (curfew), ‘dhaba’ (open air highway-side eatery), ‘bhelpuri’ (a popular snack made of puffed rice and spices from Western India) and ‘chamcha’ (sweet-talker), that have earned respect due to their inclusion in the dictionary.
The methodology adopted for the new inclusion is based on the relative prominence these words hold in an international context. According to Judy Pearsall, Publishing Manager of Oxford’s English Dictionaries, this was decided after analyzing almost 200,000 citations from all over the world. Even some other trendy Indo-English words like ‘eveninger’, ‘bifurcate’, ‘prepone’, ‘gymkhana’, ‘buck’, ‘corporator’, ‘tank’, ‘bogie’ and ‘daywise’ have been incorporated in the new edition.
Other Indian words, including ‘bindaas’ (carefree), ‘lehnga’ (an ankle-length skirt) and ‘masala’ (a variety mix of spices), find acceptance in the latest single-volume Oxford dictionary of English. The more the East influences the West, the more such words are bound to find a place in the lexicon.
The last couple of decades have seen a considerable rise in the usage of many words associated with spirituality (like Yoga, Mantra, Guru, Pundit, Karma, Dharma, Nirvana) and these have also found their way to the mediasphere.
The most famous word of Indian origin today could indisputably be “Yoga”, owing to the global interest in this ancient art form. Literally, the word in Sanskrit means “seamless integration of the mind, body and spirit.”
Two words that are frequently used all over the world are “Mother” and “Father” that originated from their respective Sanskrit roots “Matru” and “Pitru”.
Another Sanskrit word “Guru” that is used in phrases like “language guru” or “Get the Guru’s blessings” means either a religious teacher or an expert.
A person’s deeds in his/her lifetime and its ethical consequences that determine the nature of the their next existence is captured in the Sanskrit word “Karma”, which again is often found in colloquial English.
A word which rhymes with Karma is “Dharma”. This Sanskrit word means “conformity to one's duty and nature”. There was even a popular American sitcom, “Dharma & Greg”, with the free-spirited, non-conforming, hippy-ish character of Dharma being played by Jenna Elfman.
“Nirvana” literally means “a place or state of oblivion to care, pain, or external reality” or “a state of perfect happiness” in Sanskrit. The famous alternative rock band, ‘Nirvana’, was well known for its songs based on this theme.
The Tamil word kattumaram, (from kattu to tie + maram tree, wood) gave birth to “Catamaran” that is a sailboat with twin hulls and usually a deck or superstructure connecting the hulls.
“Curry” springs from Tamil kari, which is a gravy seasoned with a mixture of various spices and normally eaten with rice.
The origin of “Chutney” comes from the Hindi root ‘catnI’, a thick Indian sauce that contains fruits, vinegar, sugar, and spices.
“Tandoor” is one word almost all Britishers would know because of “Tandoori Chicken”, the second most famous Indian delicacy in Britain. It is prepared in a ‘tandoor’, a cylindrical clay oven in which food is cooked over a hot charcoal fire. This Hindi word is actually derived from the Persian ‘Tannur’.
“Serpent” can be traced to the word “Sarpam” from Sanskrit that means a snake and more specifically a creature that creeps, hisses, or stings.
“Bungalow” is derived from ‘bangla’, which in Hindi means a one-storied house with a low-pitched roof.
“Pyjamas” comes from “pAjAma” meaning “a loose fitting garment consisting of trousers and a jacket, worn for sleeping or lounging.
These various examples reflect the growing influence of Indian languages on the English language, adding spice and variety to a truly global language. The trend will probably continue and and as the saying goes, “The best is yet to come!”
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