Indian Words in English Language

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You are probably aware of many words from English which we use in our daily conversations in our own mother tongue. However, did you know that English has over 1000 words that are borrowed from India?

Here are a few of them and their origins:

1. Avatar: The original meaning of ‘avatar’ in English – the arrival of a god on Earth in human form – derives from the Sanskrit avatāra, meaning descent (or literally, ‘to cross down’). By the beginning of the 19th century the meaning of avatar had broadened beyond Hindu mythology to mean a ‘manifestation in human form’ more generally. The word has seen a resurgence over the last 30 years with its use in the field of computing, with one of the earliest uses in this sense found in the 1985 online role-playing game ‘Habitat’. It refers to the digital representation of a person or character (e.g. as a photo, sketch or 3D image), often as the individual’s alter ego, which is able to move about in its surroundings and interact with other characters.

2. Bungalow: The original meaning of bungalow meant not only a one-storied house (as in its current meaning), but also a temporary building such as a summer-house. It derives from the Hindustani banglā meaning ‘belonging to Bengal’, or ‘in the Bengal style’.

3. Coir: Coir, meaning the fibre taken from a coconut and used for making ropes and mats, was first used in English way back in 1582. Derived from the Malayalam kāyar (meaning ‘cord’), its earliest spelling was ‘cayro’ or ‘cairo’, as found in Hakluyt’s 1599 the principal navigations, voyages, traffiques and discoveries of the English nation.

4. Dungarees: Dungaree was originally a type of coarse and inferior Indian calico. It got its name from the Hindi dungrī, most likely from a village of the same name to the north of Mumbai. The more common modern meaning is for trousers made of this material, usually blue in colour and resembling denim, or a garment consisting of these trousers with a bib held up by shoulder straps.

5. Jungle: The original Hindi jangal (from the Sanskrit jangala) simply meant desert, waste or forest. The modern meaning, i.e. land which is overgrown by long grass, vegetation and forest, typically in the tropics, seems to arise from an association with tangle.

6. Shampoo: Deriving from the Hindi čāmpo (‘to press’) via ‘champing’, ‘shampoo’ originally had a similar meaning to massage. Its modern meaning, i.e. to wash the head with a cleaning product (and as a noun, to refer to the actual substance), did not emerge until the mid-19th century.

If you’d like to know more words of Indian origins, check out:

Word meaning and origins in this article are from and Hobson-Jobson- A glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases, and of kindred terms etymological, historical, geographical and discursive. By Colonel Henry Yule and AC Burnell.

-Reshmi V M, English Teacher 

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