Wordy Wednesday 1

Many bloggers post photographs on Wednesday under the heading ‘Wordless Wednesday’. Me? I’m going to write a few posts about words – specifically words in English borrowed from languages of the Indian Subcontinent.

I’m just plain awkward, but you knew that, didn’t you?

I am currently editing the first draft of my novel A Good Place, which is set in a hill station in Northern India. And in that hill station live a number of English who remained behind after Partition.

‘I’m sitting on the veranda of the bungalow in my pyjamas.’ Well, no, no one says that in my book. But if they had, what is the significance of that sentence?

The significance is the number of words borrowed from Indian languages.

Untitled-Grayscale-03

Veranda is an Indian word, but coming originally, perhaps, from Persian. The Oxford Dictionary suggests two derivatives, either from the Hindi (varanda) or from the Portuguese (varanda). Digging a little deeper, if I refer to Hobson-Jobson, the Anglo-Indian Dictionary that was published in 1886 and traces pretty well every word or phrase borrowed from the Sub-Continent, I discover a very long entry on this word. It begins by dismissing the possibility of it being derived from the Persian beramada, and goes on to state that it appears to exist independently in both Hindi, and in Portuguese (and Spanish). It then traces the possible routes the word might have taken to reach the English language, before then saying, surprisingly, that it could have its roots in the Persian after all. This seems quite likely to me, since many Persian words made their way to India especially with the Mughals, and it suggests a possible route to the Spanish peninsular when the Islamic armies arrived in the early eighth century.

I tried typing it into Ngram Viewer. This is an online tool that searches through the entire database of books that Google can access online (including ones still under copyright) published since 1800. Looking at the results for all books in English, it tells me it was barely used in 1800, although it does exist, rises steadily to a peak about 1910, and then falls away slowly, although it is still in common usage. Unfortunately Ngram has not been set up to search books in Indian languages, or even Portuguese. I tried Spanish and the pattern was similar, except that after peaking just before 1910 , it dropped sharply, but since then the trend has been upwards. I then noticed something. I had actually looked at the trend in American English. So I then tried British English, and this gave me a rather different pattern; The curve rose gradually until it peaked in the 1950’s and then fell away sharply. Why? I think it must be due to a surge of historical / biographical / nostalgic writing, both fiction and non-fiction, after the British left India.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to try to go into that sort of detail with other words.

Next, bungalow actually refers to a ‘Bengal style’ house (often with a veranda!) that the British frequently chose to live in.

And pyjamas are loose cotton trousers worn in India which were ‘adapted’ for night wear by Europeans.

Okay, class, lesson over. Be sure to wash your hands before eating your snacks (samosas and pakoras today, of course).

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17 thoughts on “Wordy Wednesday 1

  1. Baramada is possibly a portmanteau meaning ‘coming for the outside’ essentially a place where visitors would wait before being admitted into the house. Shampoo was the word I was surprised originated in Hindi, and as I later learned, did the concept of a separate concoction for one’s hair originate with an Indian in England.

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    1. I was interested to learn that too. especially that it means massage, rather than some sort of soap. But that certainly makes sense. I wasn’t aware of the second part, though, about the concoction originating with and Indian in England.

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      1. Din Mohammed was the one who started the craze, offering therapeutic oriental hair massages. Got that from a Google doodle recently. The Hindi term for head massage is champi, a term itself derived from the champa flower, an oil prepared from which was, and is, used for the massage.

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  2. While influences in English dictionary from Spanish, Portuguese, French etc have been documented; not enough has been done when it comes to India. I’m sure at end of 200 years long colonial rule the British must have taken back a lot of memories! On another note, many of the commonly used words in India itself came from Persia and Central India like Samosa and Pulav! It is indeed a very interesting subject.

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      1. Certainly. I have read in a few food write up that they do have a version of Samosa in middle east with similar sounding name. Also, it is important to remember that potato, tomato, and a couple of other stuff came in with the arrival of Portugese. So Samosa cannot be very old.

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      1. Your Wordy Wednesday reminded me of a challenge hosted by a blogger. It was called Three Word Wednesday. He put up 3 random words every Wednesday, and whoever liked could write fiction or non fiction including all three words in what they wrote. It used to be fun 🙂

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