Doolally, Pukka and Cushy. And other words of Indian origin in everyday use

Historically, these great British Isles, where I live, have a habit of being invaded. (Although, thankfully, not for some time.)

The upside to this, of course, along with nice straight roads built by the Romans, is that the English language is a rich and colourful blend of Latin words, Anglo Saxon words and French words.

But that’s not all. The Brits, of course, love to “visit” other countries – whether we’re invited or not. And during the era of British rule in India (1612 – 1947) numerous words of Indian origin entered the English language.

These Indian words came from a variety of languages including Hindi, Urdu, Punajabi, Gujarati, Bengali, Marathi, Kashmir, Sindhi, and the sacred, ancient language Sanskrit.

And today, over 700 words in the Oxford English dictionary have Indian origin. Here are just a few of them:

Bandanna: From the Hindi word Bandhana meaning to tie.

Bangle: From the Hindi word Bangri meaning glass bracelet.

Bungalow: From the Hindi word Banla meaning “house in the Bengal style” or single story house.

Chit: From the Hindi word Chitthi meaning a slip of paper (used instead of money).

Cot: From the Hindi word Khat meaning portable bed, couch or hammock.

Cummerbund: From the Urdu word Kamar-band meaning waistband.

Cushy: From: the Hindi word Khush meaning happy, easy, pleasant.

Doolally: From the town of Deolali, the location of an army base and sanatorium where soldiers leaving India in the late 19th century were sent before leaving for home. Those that became mentally deranged after contacting a fever, or Tap in Urdu, were said to have gone Doolally Tap.

Guru: A Hindi word meaning spiritual leader or guide, teacher instructor. From the Sanskrit words Guruh meaning weighty, heavy, grave.

Khaki: An Urdu word meaning dusty or dust coloured.

Pundit: From the Hindi word Pandit meaning a learned man. From the Sanskrit word Panditah meaning learned scholar.

Pukka: From the Hindi words Pakka meaning cooked, solid, substantial.

Pyjamas or Pajamas: From the Urdu word payjamah meaning leg garment.

Shampoo: From the Hindi word Champo, meaning to press and massage. 

Thug: From the Hindi word Thag meaning a thief or conman and the Sanskirt word Sthaga meaning robber.

Yoga: A Sanskrit word for the union of mind, body and spirit.

Any favourite Indian words? And Chicken Tikka Massala, Tarka Dal, Sag Aloo and Bhindi Bhaji don’t count!

17 Comments
  • Andy Nattan
    Posted at 13:00h, 23 November Reply

    I don’t have many favourites, but I despise “Pukka”. And now I know what it actually means, I like it even less.

    Pukka Pies? That’s a selling point? They’re cooked?

  • Andy Nattan
    Posted at 13:00h, 23 November Reply

    I don’t have many favourites, but I despise “Pukka”. And now I know what it actually means, I like it even less.

    Pukka Pies? That’s a selling point? They’re cooked?

  • Lorraine
    Posted at 13:15h, 23 November Reply

    Love this, Sarah–especially having visited India recently.

    Just thought of one more Anglo-Indian word: Jodphurs–for the signature trousers worn by the people of Jodphur, Rajasthan, adopted by Western polo players.

  • Lorraine
    Posted at 13:15h, 23 November Reply

    Love this, Sarah–especially having visited India recently.

    Just thought of one more Anglo-Indian word: Jodphurs–for the signature trousers worn by the people of Jodphur, Rajasthan, adopted by Western polo players.

  • Inderpal Kallah
    Posted at 12:59h, 03 December Reply

    got to be “Avatar” or ‘Avtar’ which means incarnation.

    And the language of Punjab is Punjabi – keep your updates coming!

  • Inderpal Kallah
    Posted at 12:59h, 03 December Reply

    got to be “Avatar” or ‘Avtar’ which means incarnation.

    And the language of Punjab is Punjabi – keep your updates coming!

  • Mike
    Posted at 10:08h, 19 December Reply

    Great article and am amazed by your knowledge about the Indian origin words – well reseached.
    Just thought would share a few things that I know.
    The word “Tap” is from Marathi and not Urdu.
    The language spoken by people from Kashmir is Kashmiri. Just to mention o few more words – “Jungle” from Hindi jangal which means forest and “Loot” from sanskrit Loot – meaning to steal.

    • Sarah Turner
      Posted at 10:24h, 19 December Reply

      Hey Mike
      Thanks so much for this. It just shows what a rich and colourful language English is. Albeit one that has swiped a whole bunch of words from other people. Can’t help but feel it must be a complete an utter nightmare to learn if you’re from overseas. 🙂

  • Mike
    Posted at 10:08h, 19 December Reply

    Great article and am amazed by your knowledge about the Indian origin words – well reseached.
    Just thought would share a few things that I know.
    The word “Tap” is from Marathi and not Urdu.
    The language spoken by people from Kashmir is Kashmiri. Just to mention o few more words – “Jungle” from Hindi jangal which means forest and “Loot” from sanskrit Loot – meaning to steal.

    • Sarah Turner
      Posted at 10:24h, 19 December Reply

      Hey Mike
      Thanks so much for this. It just shows what a rich and colourful language English is. Albeit one that has swiped a whole bunch of words from other people. Can’t help but feel it must be a complete an utter nightmare to learn if you’re from overseas. 🙂

  • Marco
    Posted at 12:53h, 14 October Reply

    Pukka considering its accepted English meaning is more likely to have come from Urdu, where it means first class and genuine.

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  • Alpa Patel
    Posted at 16:51h, 29 November Reply

    Its Hindi, stolen and plagiarized like many of the conquerors mindset who burnt books, to facilitate the illusion that the East were far more advanced than the concept of the white man being in the image of God and thus said they invented it. Like so many Indian foods, where people will say it is Middle Eastern, Persian, Mogul. But the Moghuls rewrote history as did the Europeans colonialist. They even chipped the noses and lips of the Sphinx as they did not want it to be know that people they deemed inferiors could construct such structures. To this day with laser, hydraulics such structures cannot be created. They even will tell you that the Portuguese brought in chilies to India. When some chilies are only found in India and are indigenous. Know the Brits will tell you they invented Curry. Curry comes from the Indian word Kardhi, meaning soupy gravy, Kedgeree comes from the Indian word Kichiri, Calcutta was name by the Brits when an Indian was asked who cleared the vegetation and a reply was Kal Cotta, meaning It was cut yesterday Kal meaning yesterday, cotta means cut. The Brits could not pronounce some of the words so this explains the nuances brought it. Arm Chair comes from the word Aram Churise. meaning lazy chair. The French and Indians too took the word for trousers derived from Patloon, they call it Pantaloon, a shirt was called Chemise, and the it still called as a Chemis, by the Frech, and Italians, Gym comes from the word Gymkhana, the Greeks will argue they invented it. But Mykahana means place of drink, the Pub. many word if you break them down you can see what language it came from. Latin was derived from Sanskrit one of the oldest languages know to man. Even the names for many medications like Viagra, have Indian roots.

    • Satis
      Posted at 06:43h, 26 May Reply

      Hope this encourages children to learn their first language. Great work.

    • Rina Thadani
      Posted at 18:49h, 01 July Reply

      Very well written…

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