Words index  Vivian Cook

Indian Words in English

Ever since the British went to India, many words from Indian languages have travelled in the reverse direction. The changing historical relationship between the two countries is shown in the different kinds of words that the English language borrowed at different periods, according to the Indian expert Subba Roa.

·         In the 17th century it was trade that counted. The names of Indian places were used for particular materials, such as calico (a city) or cashmere (Kashmir).

·         In the 18th century, though trade continued to bring in words such as jute and seersucker, influences came from Indian culture, such as hookah (alias hubble-bubble, a kind of smoking device) and the military as in sepoy (native Indian soldier).

·         The 19th century saw Indian words used with wider meanings than in their original languages: jungle (just ‘waste ground’), toddy (‘tree sap’) and juggernaut (‘wagon’), while ideas from Indian philosophy began to be known, such as karma.

·         The 20th century continued the military influence with the two world wars yielding blighty, cushy and chitty.

Here are some other words that seem to have come from India, a matter not just of recognisable imports like tikka massala, but also of bungalow and calico.

atoll, Malayalam ‘closing, uniting’
bandanna
, Hindustani ‘a method of dyeing’
basmati,
Hindi ‘fragrant’
bungalow,
Hindustani ‘belonging to Bengal’
chintz,
Sanskrit ‘variegated’
dinghy,
Hindi ‘small boat’
dungaree
, Hindi ‘coarse calico’
guru,
Hindi/Hindustani a teacher, priest’
gymkhana,
Hindustani ‘ball-house’
khaki,
Urdu/Persian ‘dust-coloured’
loot,
Hindi ‘booty’
pundit,
Hindi ‘learned man’
thug,
Hindi ‘a cheat’
tom-tom,
Hindustani drum’  

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