5 Reasons Why English Owes Hindi a Drink
It is common knowledge that like most other modern languages, English derives a large part of its lexicon from other languages. The book, The Origins And Development of The English Language, talks about the heavy influence of French on the modern English language with as many as 30% of the words possibly derived from it.
Yet, The Oxford English Dictionary, widely regarded as the accepted authority on modern English vocabulary continues to borrow from various other languages.
Hindi — the official Indian language is one such example. The influence of Indian languages, and more broadly South Asian languages even pre-dates the British Raj, i.e. the period since the East India Company acquired its first territory in the Indian subcontinent in 1615.
Being an Indian, a native Hindi speaker, and fluent in English, I’d like to bring you the true meanings of some of these powerful “borrowed words” and how they differ from the widely-used English meaning in some cases.
The Oxford dictionary defines Pukka as:
(old-fashioned) what somebody claims it is; not a copy; appropriate in a particular social situation
(informal) of very good quality
The real usage of Pukka in Hindi, however, is much broader, like many other Hindi words, with different contextual meanings. Here are some of them:
- Ripe — in the context of a fruit
- Genuine/authentic — in the context of a job or document
- Solid/sturdy — in the context of a structure eg. house, road, etc.
- Certain — in the context of a promise, word
The Oxford dictionary defines Masala as:
a mixture of spices used in South Asian cooking
a dish made with masala eg. Chicken masala
In addition to this above accurate, direct translation of the word, the other contextual meaning for Masala in Indian usage is:
- Gossip — in the context of an interesting piece of news eg. Page 3 material
- Gunpowder — in the context of bombs and general ballistics
Pajamas or Pyjamas
The Oxford dictionary defines Pajamas as:
a loose jacket and trousers worn in bed
While partially correct, the actual meaning of a “pajama” in Hindi is actually the pants that you wear with traditional Indian clothing. So it is strictly the lower part of the attire and not the whole of it.
Another slang usage of the term is to describe a foolish or a stupid person — the Indian nincompoop is a “pajama”.
The Oxford dictionary defines Jungle as:
an area of tropical forest where trees and plants grow very thickly
While Jungle is accurately described as a forest, the more interesting usage in Hindi is the adjective of the said noun.
Junglee — the natural usage for the term would be for a “wild” animal or plant species, but is often also used by Indian mothers to describe their naughty children for wreaking havoc, as they often do!
The Oxford dictionary describes Karma as:
(in Buddhism and Hinduism) the sum of somebody’s good and bad actions in one of their lives, believed to decide what will happen to them in the next life
And that is exactly what Karma is. It is essentially the Hindi / Sanskrit version of “as you sow, so shall you reap”.
And so, it is only fair for English to thank Hindi for all these powerful additions to its vocabulary, by paying back in some good “faith” or “Karma” by buying her a drink!