English is a culturally and linguistically complex language that understandably takes non-English speakers a considerable amount of time to master.

As a West Germanic language English is closely related to Dutch, Frisian and German, whilst the vocabulary borrows a significant amount from French, Latin, Greek and many other languages.

So as Britain currently basks in what could well be described as an early Indian summer, I’ve taken a look at Anglo-Indian and the words that the English language owes to India.

You may be amazed at the sheer number of borrowings from India and Anglo-Indian words. There are enough even to fill a 1000-page dictionary, that took 14 years to compile! Let me explain.

140 years ago, in 1872, two men named Arthur C. Burnell and Henry Yule commenced a massive project to build a lexicon of all the words of Asian origin that are used by Brits in India. In 1886, following the passing of Burnell (a scholar of South Indian languages), Yule brought to an end almost a decade and a half of labour and toil as the dictionary was first published. It has not been out of print since, and Hobson-Jobson: A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases, and of Kindred Terms, Etymological, Historical, Geographical and Discursive, to give it its full title, can now be picked up for as little as a few pound sterling online.

The dictionary is full of Anglo-Indian words and terms from Indian languages that initially came into use during the British rule of India. It begins with Abada, an a lengthy definition and explanation that starts: ‘A word used by Spanish and Portuguese writers for a rhinoceros, and adopted by some of the older English narrators.

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Other, more common, examples are listed below with their definitions:

Alcove – from Spanish ‘alcova’, old French ‘aucube’ and Arabic ‘al-kubbah’, first applied to a kind of tent.
Baloon, Balloon – a rowing vessel formerly used in various parts of the Indies, the basis of which was a large canoe, or ‘dug-out’. There is a Mahr. word balyanw, a kind of barge, which is probably the original.
Cashmere – the famous valley province of the Western Himalaya.
Dinghi – from diṇgī, a small boat or skiff; sometimes also ‘a canoe,’ i.e. dug out of a single trunk.
Elk – the name given by sportsmen in S. India, with singular impropriety, to the great stag.
Firefly – called in South Indian vernaculars by names signifying ‘Lightning Insect’.
Guru – a spiritual teacher, a (Hindu) priest.
Harem – applied to the women of the household and their apartment.
Indigo – the plant Indigofera tinctoria and the dark blue dye made from it.
Juggernaut – from Juggurnaut – from Jagannatha, ‘Lord of the Universe’, a name of Krishna worshipped as Vishnu at the famous shrine of Puri in Orissa.
Khaki – from Khakee – ‘dusty or dust coloured’, applied to a light drab or chocolate-coloured cloth.
Loot – plunder; Hind. lut, and that from Skt. lotra, for loptra, root lup, ‘rob, plunder’.
Madras – this alternative name of the place, officially called by its founders Fort St. George, first appears about the middle of the 17th century.
Nirvana – the literal meaning of this word is simply ‘blown out,’ like a candle.
Overland – specifically applied to the Mediterranean route to India.
Pundit – from Skt. pandita, ‘a learned man’.
Reaper – the small laths, laid across the rafters of a sloping roof to bear the tiles, are so called in Anglo-Indian house-building.
Shampoo – to knead and press the muscles with the view of relieving fatigue.
Thug – from Hind. thag, Mahr. thak, Skt. sthaga, ‘a cheat, a swindler’.
Veranda – an open pillared gallery around a house.

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Can you think of any other Anglo-Indian terms, or English words, phrases or terms that have Indian origins? Let us know via the comment box below.

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