The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) recently added 70 entries originating from and chiefly used in Indian English. They were added to the 900 or so such words already in the dictionary – a consequence of British involvement with India for 400 years, from the early days of colonisation, through the Raj, to independence, the diaspora and contemporary culture.
Many terms originate from India’s most widely spoken languages, including Hindi (chup,“be quiet”), Marathi (vada, “deep-fried ball or ring made from ground potato or pulses”), Bengali (didi, “elder sister or female cousin, respectful term for an older woman”), Punjabi (jhuggi, “hut, slum dwelling, typically made from mud or corrugated iron”), Tamil (anna, “respectful title or form of address for an older brother”) and Urdu (gosht,“red meat”).
Two languages with important historical ties to India also figure significantly: Sanskrit, the liturgical language of Hinduism and literary language of ancient and medieval India, is evident in terms such as surya namaskar, from sūryanamaskāra, literally “obeisance to the sun god”, a series of yoga poses linked by fluid movements and popularly known as sun salutation; while Persian, which was the subcontinent’s administrative language and lingua franca before English, comprises the roots of Urdu borrowings such as bachcha, meaning “child”.
There are recognisable thematic categories, including food (bhindi, for example, meaning “okra”) and the complex system of kinship and address terms with no direct English equivalents, marking age, gender, status and family relationships (with both abba [Urdu, originally Arabic] and bapu [Gujarati] meaning “father”, and often used as a familiar term of address; and -ji [Hindi, from Sanskrit j ī va] being a respectful form of address, often an honorific attached as a suffix to a name or a title).
A striking entry is jugaad (from the Hindi jug ār, “combination of means and material”, taken from the Sanskrit yogy ā, “contrivance”). Jugaad is a flexible approach to problem-solving that employs limited resources in an innovative way, like a hack. Examples might include throwing together a meal from whatever is in the fridge, or – as in the title of a children’s book of science experiments, Kabār se Jugā r – when one creates “useful things from rubbish”.
Like kiasu in Singapore English (included in the OED in 2006), the Chinese guanxi(2016) and hygge from Danish (2017), such words tap deeply into the psyche of a people, but are largely incomprehensible to outsiders. Increased documentation of such terms will help develop more nuanced cross-cultural interpretation, acceptance and participation.