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20 English Words of Indian Origin: Part 1


Over the next two posts, we’re going to take a look at twenty English words which originate from Indian languages. Sanskrit words have entered the English language in a variety of ways. Some are direct loanwords, while others have travelled across the world, evolving as they move from language to language, before finally being adopted into English. Scroll down to find out more!

  1. Aubergine
    “egg-shaped vegetable having a shiny skin typically dark purple, but occasionally white or yellow”

    This word is originally from the Sanskrit ‘vatigagama’, and entered English via the Persian ‘badin-gam’, the Arabic ‘alberginera’, the French (from Catalan) ‘alberginera’, and the French ‘aubergine’.

    The French ‘aubergine’ translates to ‘fruit of the eggplant’ – ‘eggplant’ being what this vegetable is referred to in American English.

  2. Avatar
    “a new personification of a familiar idea; 'the incarnation of evil' 'the very avatar of cunning'”

    In Hinduism this word refers to the descent of a deity to Earth, and comes from the Sanskrit ‘avatarana’ meaning ‘descent’.

  3. Bandana
    “large and brightly coloured handkerchief; often used as a neckerchief”

    This word comes from the Hindi ‘bandhu’ which is a method of dyeing, and comes from the Sanskrit ‘badhnati’ which means ‘binds’ (referring to the way the cloth is knotted before it is dyed, like in tie-dye).

  4. Bangle
    “jewellery worn around the wrist for decoration”

    Bangle’ comes from the Hindi ‘bangri’ which means ‘coloured glass bracelet or anklet’.

  5. Bungalow
    “a small house with a single story”

    Bungalow’ is borrowed from the Gujarati ‘bangalo’, which in turn is from the Hindi ‘bangla’. It refers to ‘low, thatched’ houses built ‘in the Bengal style’.

  6. Cash
    “money in the form of bills or coins”

    The colonial British word ‘cash’ referring to the ‘Indian monetary system’ comes from the Tamil word ‘kasu’. 7)

  7. Cheetah
    “ long-legged spotted cat of Africa and south-western Asia having non-retractile claws; the swiftest mammal; can be trained to run down game”

    The Hindi ‘chita’, which comes from the Sanskrit ‘chitraka’ meaning ‘speckled’, really sounds like the English word ‘cheetah’, doesn’t it?

  8. Cot
    “a small bed that folds up for storage or transport”

    This word comes from the Hindi ‘khat’ meaning ‘couch, hammock’.

  9. Crimson
    “a deep and vivid red colour”

    Crimson’ is originally from the Sanskrit ‘krmi-ja’ meaning ‘red dye produced by a worm’, and entered English via the Arabic ‘qirmiz’, the Medieval Latin ‘cremesinus’, and the Old Spanish ‘cremesin’. ‘Cremesin’ translates to ‘of or belonging to the kermes’, the ‘kermes’ being the ‘insect from which a deep red dye was obtained’.

  10. Curry
    “season with a mixture of spices; typical of Indian cooking”

    The curry has become a staple of the English diet. The word comes from the Tamil ‘kari’ which means ‘sauce, relish for rice’.

Next week, we’ll look at ten more English words of Indian origin – so stay tuned!

If you’re interested on where words come from, make sure to check out the following:

Have a good week!

Avani Shah


26 Aug 2014
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