The Words English Owes to India


Everyone’s talking about Hobson-Jobson, the legendary dictionary of British India, after the announcement that a new edition is due to be published next year.

Hobson-Jobson has resulted in more English words of Indian origin entering the Oxford English Dictionary than of any other country, according to BBC Radio 4 – dinghy, bungalow and shampoo to name a few.

Since its first publication in 1886, Hobson-Jobson has been continuously in print for 140 years. It was compiled by two extraordinary polymaths Henry Yule and Arthur Burnell, who corresponded with scholars, diplomats, missionaries, intelligence officers and army personnel across the globe to produce their 1000 page lexicon.

A BBC article uses the word ‘dam’ as an example of an Indian word. The dictionary defines the word as: “Originally an actual copper coin. Damri is a common enough expression for the infinitesimal in coin, and one has often heard a Briton in India say: ‘No, I won’t give a dumree!’ with but a vague notion what a damri meant.” That is the etymology of ‘dam’. But Yule and Burnell have more to say….

“And this leads to the suggestion that a like expression, often heard from coarse talkers in England as well as in India, originated in the latter country, and that whatever profanity there may be in the animus, there is none in the etymology, when such an one blurts out ‘I don’t care a dam!’ in other words, ‘I don’t care a brass farthing!'”

50 more words from India

  • A – atoll, avatar
  • B – bandana, bangle, bazaar, Blighty, bungalow
  • C – cashmere, catamaran, char, cheroot, cheetah, chintz, chit, chokey, chutney, cot, cummerbund, curry
  • D – dinghy, doolally, dungarees
  • G – guru, gymkhana
  • H – hullabaloo
  • J – jodhpur, jungle, juggernaut, jute
  • K – khaki, kedgeree
  • L – loot
  • N – nirvana
  • P – pariah, pashmina, polo, pukka, pundit, purdah, pyjamas
  • S – sari, shampoo, shawl, swastika
  • T – teak, thug, toddy, typhoon
  • V – veranda
  • Y – yoga
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