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Words That Originated in India by Vara Anantharaman

Sacrificer           Vara Anantharaman
Sacrifice code       wfor0266
Sacrifice date       Sunday, July 8, 2001

Words That Originated in India by Vara Anantharaman

  • http://www.sulekha.com/expressions/articledesc.asp?cid=131017
  • http://www.sulekha.com
  • Published on Sunday, July 8, 2001

    A few years ago, I happened to go to Greenwich Village in New York
    to watch a show being put up by some friends of mine. In one of the
    acts, they talked about the origin of the word 'Orange' (the fruit).
    They had a map of the world on the wall. As they traced its origins,
    they kept sticking little oranges on the places they mentioned. We
    were surprised to see that the route ended in India. The word,
    apparently, started as narangah in Sanskrit, moving to Persia as
    narang and Arabia as naranj. From here, it moved to Italy as
    melarancio, and in France, it became Orenge. From here, the Middle
    English borrowed it and made it as it is today -- orange.
    This really piqued my curiosity. Over the ages, India's rich
    heritage has attracted a number of people from all over the world.
    How many of them went back, taking with them, not only precious
    stones and spices from here, but also some of our words? Consider
    English, the most spoken language in the world. English has traveled
    all over the world, changing its form to accommodate all the
    cultures it touches.

    How much has India influenced this almost universal language? I had
    known of 'bungalow', 'catamaran', 'Juggernaut' and a few others.
    Curious to find out if there were other commonplace words with
    similar roots, I was pleasantly surprised to find a treasure trove!
    Most of these words were borrowed because there were no equivalents
    in other languages. So they adopted the native words. When
    pronunciations differed, they modified the words slightly to suit
    their tongue. This process evolved such that, if you heard some of
    these words now, you would never guess that they originated in your
    own hometown.

    The British in India borrowed words like pajama, khaki, wallah,
    cummerbund, curry, pundit, fakir, and jodhpurs without modifying
    them. But prior to the British, other cultures have been borrowing
    from our languages, which have ultimately found their way into

    I started with my native tongue, Tamil. Some were quite obvious and
    others not so obvious. 'Mulligatawny' soup although made with
    chicken, descended from the rasam of South India. The word itself is
    from the Tamil word milagutanni; milagu (pepper) + tanneer (cool
    water). Tan (cool) + neer (water). 'Catamaran' originated from
    kattumaram, the word that describes a bundle of wood. 'Cash' comes
    from Portuguese caixa, which in turn originated from Tamil kacu,
    meaning a small coin.

    'Cheroot' traveled through France -- cheroute, originating in Tamil
    curruttu, meaning spiral. The metal 'corundum' comes from its Tamil
    equivalent kuruntam. 'Areca', a type of palm was brought to the
    English language by the Portuguese, from Malayalam arekka, areca nut
    and from Tamil araikka. 'Culvert', is probably from Tamil cul-vettu
    and 'curry', obviously from Tamil kari.

    'Ginger' has traveled a long route. It comes from Middle English
    gingivere, from Old English gingifer, and from Old French gingivre,
    both from Medieval Latin gingiber, from Latin zingiberi, from Greek
    zingiberis, of Middle Indic origin, akin to Pali singiveram, from
    Dravidian, akin to Tamil iñci (ginger, of southeast Asian origin +
    Tamil ver, root). 'Mango' traveled the Portuguese route (manga) from
    Malay manga, from Tamil maankaay (maan, mango tree + kaay, fruit).
    The fruit known to Tamilians as bumbilimos is 'Pampelmous' in
    English, borrowed from Dutch pompelmoes, from the Tamil name for the

    Pagoda, which is mostly an Oriental term, has its origins in Tamil.
    It has been borrowed from Portuguese pagode, perhaps from Tamil
    pagavadi and from Sanskrit bhagavati (goddess, from feminine of
    bhagavat-, blessed, from bhaga meaning good fortune).

    There are quite a few words that have been borrowed from Sanskrit.
    Most of the western world recognizes karma, mantra or pundit. If you
    were an ace in your technical field, they would call you a tech
    guru. But these are examples of the direct usage of Sanskrit words.
    Some words have been modified to suit the western tongue and
    spelling, but the root is definitely Indian.

    'Bungalow' as we all know is from Bangla in Hindi and also means
    Bengali, since this type of house was more common in that
    state. 'Jute' is another word borrowed from this state, jhuto and
    from Sanskrit jutah, meaning twisted hair.

    'Juggernaut' is of course from Jagannath. During the ratha yatras,
    many people were crushed under the heavy wheels, some of them
    falling voluntarily and some pushed by the massive crowds. The
    English form juggernaut began to be used in the nineteenth century
    in the sense of a massive inexorable force or object that crushes
    everything in its path.

    The Aryan civilization credits its name to the Sanskrit word Arya
    meaning noble. 'Bund' as in embankment or 'dike' is from the Hindi
    word band meaning 'to close'. 'Camphor' traces its way through
    Middle English caumfre, from Anglo-Norman, from Medieval Latin
    camphora, from Arabic kafur, possibly from Malay kapur, akin to
    Sanskrit karpuram. 'Cashew' probably came from Portuguese acajú,
    from Tupi, from cajú, yellow fruit, acidic, similar to our own
    kaju. 'Aniline' is a blue colored dye obtained from coal tar. It was
    called Neel or Neelam in Sanskrit. The Arabs named it AI Nil or An
    Nil from which came aniline.

    'Chintz' is derived from the Sanskrit word Chitra, which means
    picture or variegated. 'Chit', as in note, comes from Hindi chitthi
    (note, letter) from Sanskrit citrit (note). The word 'cot' was born
    from Hindi khat, from Sanskrit khatv, from Tamil kattu (to bind,

    'Cowry', seashell of a small gastropod (invertebral water creature),
    used as currency in some parts of South Pacific and Africa, comes
    from Karapada or Karapadika in Sanskrit, which was pronounced as
    Kaudi or Kauri in the then spoken language, Prakrit and later in

    A small boat is some times called a 'dinghy', which is from its
    Hindi equivalent, Dingi or Dengi. 'Gymkhana' which was used a lot
    during the British rule, comes from Hindi gend-khana (racket court
    where gendmeans ball and khana means house). A sack may be
    called 'gunny', which originated from the Sanskrit word Goni or
    Gonika. Dutch lac, or French laque, both from Old French lace comes
    from Medieval Latin lacca, from Arabic lakk, from Prakrit lakkha,
    from Sanskrit laksha (meaning red dye, resin).

    Could you have guessed that the word 'lemon' found its origin in
    India? It comes from the Sanskrit Nimbuka, in Modern Hindi as Nimbu
    or Limbu. Middle English limon, from Old French, from Old Italian
    limone, from Arabic laymun, from Persian limun. And how many of you
    knew that the word 'shampoo', a common everyday word in English,
    came from Hindi Champna (to press)? A rich, influential person is
    often called a 'nabob', a mutation of nawab of India. And the 'thug'
    came from Hindi thag, perhaps from Sanskrit sthagah (a cheat), from
    sthagati, sthagayati (he conceals).

    A lot of Malayalam words were borrowed by the Portuguese to be later
    lent to the English language. The word 'Bamboo' originated from the
    Malayalam word Mambu and Sanskrit root word Vambha. 'Cachou', a
    pastille used to sweeten the breath comes from French, from
    Portuguese cachu, from Malayalam kaccu, from Tamil kayccu. 'Coir'
    comes from Malayalam Kayaru (to be twisted) and Kayar
    (rope). 'Jaggery' comes from Portuguese dialectal jágara, probably
    from Malayalam sarkkara, from Sanskrit sarkara (sugar).

    When you call someone a 'pal', did you know you are talking in
    Sanskrit? Well, not exactly, but almost. The word has its roots in
    Romany phral, phal, from Sanskrit bhrata, bhratr (brother). And if
    someone called you a 'pariah', they are borrowing from the Tamil
    word, paraiyan, which is a caste in Tamil Nadu.

    Pepper, another common everyday word, wound its way through Middle
    English peper, from Old English pipor, from Latin piper, from Greek
    peperi, of Sanskrit pippali.

    While you drink a glass of 'punch', you may want to remember that
    the word is from Hindi panch, from its originally having been
    prepared from five ingredients. Talking about food, 'rice' too had
    its origins in India. It traced its way through Middle English, from
    Old French ris, from Old Italian riso, from Latin oryza, from Greek
    oruza, of Indo-Iranian origin, Sanskrit Vrihi. 'Sugar' has also come
    from India. It started from the Sanskrit sarkara, to Persian shakar,
    to Arabic sukkar, to Old Italian zucchero, Old Latin succarum, Old
    French sukere, Middle English Sugre to finally become today's sugar.

    It is hard to believe that a word as Asian as 'Zen' is ultimately an
    Indo-European word. 'Zen', which has been in English since 1727, is
    the Japanese pronunciation of Chinese chán (quietude). Chán comes
    from Pali jhaanam, from Sanskrit dhyaanam (meditation), from the
    Sanskrit root dhyo-, dhy- (to see, observe). The Indo-European root
    behind the Sanskrit is dheia-, dhya- (to see, look at). This root
    also shows up in Greek, where dhya- developed into se-, as in Common
    Greek sema (sign, distinguishing mark). This became sema in Attic
    Greek, the source of English 'semantic'.

    All these seem to be proof of the influence that India had over the
    rest of the world in days gone by. The fact that there are so many
    Indian words in English makes us conclude that this influence was
    extremely high indeed. And it has not stopped, but seems to be an
    ongoing process. A lot of the western world is familiar with Naan,
    Tandoor, Chai and Lassi. Bindi is popular and so is Bhangra. I am
    sure many others will follow.


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