6 Words English Got From Hindi

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During the British Raj, or dominion over India (1757-1947), English gained a number of words from Hindi and other Indian languages. Linguists refer to this as “borrowing,” but we’re not likely to return any of this linguistic wealth.

1. Ganja

Ganja brings to mind Bob Marley and Jamaica, but this term for marijuana comes from the Hindi word gānjhā. The 1st Duke of Wellington, who later defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, used the word in a dispatch dated 1800. The word “marijuana” didn’t enter English for another 74 years.

2. Bangles

Bangles dangle and jangle on the wrist, so you would think the three rhyming words were related, but dangle is of Scandinavian origin, jangle comes from Old French, and bangle entered English in the late 18th century from the Hindi word bangṛī, which originally meant a colored glass ring worn on the wrist by women.

3. Juggernaut

Juggernaut sounds like it’s related to astronaut, but it’s not the same “-naut.” Astronaut comes from Greek words meaning "star" and "sailor." Juggernaut arises from the Hindi Jagannāth, designating a form of Vishṇu or his avatar Kṛishṇa. The title, meaning "lord of the world," derives from Sanskrit: jagat world plus nātha lord, protector. The Jagannāth Temple in Puri in the Indian state of Orissa is a major Hindu pilgrimage site. During the annual Chariot Festival thousands of devotees pull enormous carts bearing the temple deities in procession. Reports of pilgrims crushed under the wheels of the chariots gave rise to the English word juggernaut, meaning an overwhelming or unstoppable force.

4. Thug

A Thug was originally a member of a criminal gang devoted to the Hindu goddess Kali. The Thugs robbed and strangled victims in northern India from at least the 1660s until the mid 19th century. (From Hindi ṭhag, ‘a cheat, swindler.’)

5. Loot

Loot first referred to the spoils of war, but the meaning has broadened to include the ill gotten gains of robbers like the Thugs. It’s another word that entered English during the British Raj. It comes from Hindi lūt, which is possibly from Sanskrit lōtra, lōptra "booty, spoil."

6. Shampoo

Shampoo originally meant "to massage" and probably comes from Hindi čāmpo, imperative of čāmpnā to press. As an anonymous officer of the East India Company reported in 1762, “Had I not seen several China merchants shampooed before me, I should have been apprehensive of danger…” In Vanity Fair, as late as 1848, Thackeray writes about “pinching the bed curtains, poking into the feathers, shampooing the mattresses.” Shortly thereafter shampoo gained its current meaning "to wash the hair with a liquid soap or detergent."

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February 26, 2013 - 7:00pm
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