English may be a global lingua franca, but the West Germanic language has an extensive history of borrowing words from other tongues. What some of the estimated 400 million native speakers of the English language don’t know is that Sanskrit is the Indo-European mother of words like “khaki” –or that English is an official language of India but not of the U.K. or the U.S., where it is the predominant language spoken. Also Read - Tamil Actor Robs Her Own House And Goes Absconding, Police Nabs Her Husband
English is only one of the hundreds of languages spoken in South Asia–India alone has 22 official languages at the state level. The languages decorating every Indian rupee are a mere fraction of the 780 languages spoken in India. Also Read - Hindi Diwas 2020: German Ambassador to India Wishes Indians in Fluent Hindi, Netizens Bowled Over | Watch
Each one of these languages is filled with words that can’t be translated into the officious English. Here are a few words and phrases collected from various South Asian languages that English has yet to borrow. Also Read - Tamil Comedian Vadivel Balaji Dies 15 Days After Suffering Heart Attack at 45
A nice, long ungdayee is always a good start to the day: this Hindi word describes the relaxing stretch one makes when waking up in the morning to prepare for the daily stresses ahead.
With limited resources, you make do with what you have—as evidenced by some of the more, er, “creative” vehicles seen on Indian roads. While the term jerry-rig implies a haphazard construction and MacGyver is a humorous pop culture reference, jugaad refers to the innovative approach and unique solution to a tricky situation.
Offering chai-pani may mean more than the hospitable offering of water and tea to a guest. The Hindi/Urdu phrase refers to paying someone, often a bureaucrat, to complete a task. Giving chai-pani isn’t considered negative–in fact, if the offering is not enough, the recipient may insist that the chai was given but not the pani.
Is facepalming not enough to convey your frustration with someone? Fitteh muh is a popular Punjabi expression for a frustrating situation that calls for a little scolding–perhaps accompanied by a slap upside the head.
There’s no better way to describe your girlfriend’s beauty than to compare her to the Juliet of the Subcontinent. Heeriye is derived from Heer, the female protagonist in the tragic Punjabi romance story of Heer/Ranjha (akin to Romeo & Juliet).
Sadke mein jawan
The French exclamation “Oh la la!” calls attention to the unexpected, but Punjabi’s “Sadke mein jawan” is uttered in the face of the unexpected and even breathtaking. The literal translation reads, “I sacrifice myself,” but the meaning of the phrase is closer to “I am in awe.”
English words like today and tomorrow are useful for the immediate past and future, but what about events a few days behind? Parso consolidates “the day before yesterday” into a two-syllable word.
The essence of South Asian reverence for presentation and dignity–even to extreme lengths–is captured in takallouf. The Urdu word for “formality,” such as the preparation of a tea or meal, also applies to the extent to which one will uphold a formality–such as accepting endless offers of nihari from aunties.
There’s no easy way to the top–climbing the career ladder may involve a little sifarish. Internet translations define sifarish as a “recommendation,” but the Urdu word has a more subversive implication: it’s the use of one’s networks or connections to get one’s way.
Guilt and regret may sit heavy on one’s mind, yet there is no English word to describe a sadness that weighs on the spirit, perhaps in the wake of a loved one’s death. Malal conveys a deep, heavy sadness in one’s heart.
Some consider the sound and smell of rain to be refreshing, but in the lush state of Tamil Nadu, mannvaasanai describes the earthen smell arising after a downpour.
Arguments in relationships can be unnecessarily dramatic, sometimes ending with one party’s melodramatic oodul. The Tamil word is used for fake sulking after a lover’s quarrel to garner sympathy—and perhaps a little attention.
Praise and status are highly valued in South Asian cultures–but too much can result in kindal, or heaping on so much praise that it becomes taunting or insulting.
Being trapped in a two-day journey by car to see one’s family members in remote Montana may be poetically described as a longu longu. The Tamil onomatopoeia conveys the feeling of a long, plunky journey down side roads and through areas without service.
Thankfully nyaka doesn’t exist in English, otherwise this would’ve surely been my childhood nickname. The Bengali word, which is more often used for women, is garnered through melodramatic or ditzy reactions.
If Regina George from “Mean Girls” spoke Bengali, she would have definitely described her fellow classmates as pati. Close to the current practice of calling someone “basic,” pati describes all that is so not cool. There’s an element of classism to the term as well, as those who are wealthy and cultured consider themselves distant from the traditional “Indian-ness” that they may sometimes consider pati.
An onomatopoeic word for the sound of boiling, togbog conveys a more poetic meaning: it may refer to a boiling of emotions or political sentiment. While this sounds like the English word “boiling” in its literal and metaphorical sense, togbog creates a profound imagery as if boiling blood created a sound.
We’re not Gujarati, but when my usually adult siblings and I are together, we relive our childhood through a little ghelah-gahdah. The Gujarati phrase captures the silly, carefree nature of children, such as making faces or playing and joking around.
While ghelah-gahdah highlights the childish nature that make parents chuckle, no South Asian parent like a child who is jabra. Jabra is a Gujarati word for being cheeky, outspoken or manipulative.
What’s a South Asian word or phrase you’d like to hear in English? Comment with your favorite words below!