15 English words you probably didn’t know were of Indian origin

It is common knowledge that English constantly borrows from languages all over the world. As a language, it is one of the most commonly evolving, with words in common dictionaries being replaced with almost every new publication. There are many words that are etymologically easy to dissect. Words like CashmereGuru, Jungle, Gymkhana, Pajamas, Bungalow are quite obvious in their origins. There are also some lesser known words like Junta, Cheetah, Cummerbund, Khaki (color of dust, in Urdu), Coolie(from the Tamil ‘Coolie’), Veranda, Lootand of course, Yoga. I recall reading  that bifurcate is of Indian origin too. I put together a few words a long time ago for my old blog, I hope they’re still surprising and interesting today.

  1. First one on our list is Juggernaut. As it sounds, it has its origins in the name of Lord Vishnu, Jagannath. (Wikipedia: During the British colonial era, Christianmissionaries promulgated a falsehood that Hindu devotees of Krishna were lunatic fanatics who threw themselves under the wheels of huge chariots in order to attainsalvation. In rare instances in the Jagannath yatra festival’s past, people had been crushed accidentally as the massive 45-foot-tall, multi-ton chariot slipped out of control, with others suffering injury in the resulting stampedes. This sight led the Britons of the time to contrive the word “juggernaut” to refer to examples of unstoppable, crushing forces.)
  2. Second one is on the list is the fruit drink Punch (made of fruit juices mixed with water or soda water, with or without alcohol). This word originates from pancha (Sanskrit), meaning ‘five’, because of the five ingredients used: spirit/soda, sugar, lemon, water and tea/spices.
  3. Bandana is borrowed from bandhna, to tie. (Hindi, Lucknow). Who expected we could put a word in the fashion dictionary before Padma Lakshmi was born!
  4. Remember the chits you used to take to your exam halls? Chit has its origins in Chitthi, a letter (Hindi).
  5. An animal makes it to the list too. Mongoose is from the Marathi word for the same, Mangus.
  6. A Malayalam word, Chakka, is what gave birth to Jack Fruit.
  7. On a slightly dull, yet bright note, Opal is from Sanskrit Upalah. Another stone, Marakata, travelled all the way to the Greek language, and then Latin under the guise of smaragdus, and became the English Emarald.
  8. The next reptile has a weird avatar here. Apparently fashionable Victorian purses were made of crocodile skin. The Hindi word for croc is Magar/ mugger. Street robbers were thus called Muggers.
  9. Here’s a word you would not have expected. Sugar is from Middle Latin succarum, from Arabic sukkarand Persian shakar ultimately from Sanskrit sharkara.
  10. Another word for ‘sugar’ in Sanskrit is Khanda. This one travelled to Persia, and then to France as Sucre Candi, and then to England in the form of Candy.
  11. An interesting journey was made by Zen. Yes, it’s Japanese, for meditation. The Chinese called itch’an. And we called it, Dhyaana (Sanskrit).
  12. When our elders wanted a massage, they would ask their slaves to champu (Hindi, verb) their scalp. Today, it led to Shampoo.
  13. More interesting is the origin is for the word Mango. This is from ‘maangai’ in Tamil, for Mango.
  14. Coir came from the Malayalam word kayaru, which in turn was borrowed from Kayir, Tamil.
  15. This word is the one I was most amazed about. In Tamil Nadu, people were terrified of large snakes that could swallow elephants whole. They called this snake, aanai kondan– literally meaning, elephant killer. The rest of the world seemed too lazy to invent a new word, so they simply anglicized the reptile to Anaconda. (Fascinating thing is, Anaconda is found in Sri Lanka and the snake Tamils probably referred to as aanai kondan was a python.) (Unverified)

13 comments on “15 English words you probably didn’t know were of Indian origin

  1. Karthik Ragubathy

    Haha! Informative post. Amazing how words originate from one language to other. Pancha and Punch Juice.

    Also Anai Kondan = Anaconda . Mind == Blown

  2. sreehari.M

    ..happy to know that there is a tasty touch of indian contribution to english dominance..

  3. Pingback: Top Ten English words that originated in India

  4. Arun

    While probably some of these words are really derived from Indian languages(coir, jackfruit,juggernaut and some others), you really can’t say for sure that just because they sound similar they are derived from the words in Sanskrit or other indian languages. Sanskrit and modern English both evolved from proto Indo-European language; they belong to the same family which also includes Persian, Hindi etc, which share many word roots and word orgins. That is why they have words that sound similar, like Father, Mother, Serpent; because they all evolved from the same root in the proto language.

  5. Darren

    A lot of places where I live inScoland are Scandinavian ,that’s because when the Vikings came here ,they just say what they saw and it kind of stuck over 1500 years later ,just like the British coming back home .my self and my workmates still say time for a cup of char instead of tea.very informative ,thanks .

    1. Sandrova

      Thanks for your comment, Darren! My post is a little inaccurate, since I wrote it before I studied further into the subject. Except for words like anaconda, most other words actually don’t originate from Sanskrit. Instead, they originate from PIE, the common ancestral language of many of today’s European languages as well as Sanskrit. Maybe you’d find this post interesting as well? http://www.sandrova.com/why-so-many-girl-names-end-with-an-a-sound/

  6. dipak

    just search for prof. p.n.oak ,download his free book ”hashyaspad angreji bhasha” ,more than1000 words of english he prooved of sanskrut origin

  7. lipwe

    I think some of your suggestion are misleading.

    Father and Mother most probably evolve from proto Indo European.
    Similarity of English and Indic languages are not solely due to borrowing. Both have common origin

    Anaconda is a Sri lankan origin word (Tamil or Sinhalese ) not Tamil Nadu.

    1. Sandrova

      Hi, thanks for the comment! You are absolutely right, of course. I’ve edited my post to reflect the PIE roots. I’d been meaning to do that for a while, thank you.

  8. Pingback: Tamil is orginal and oldest language in the world - Page 3 - Historum - History Forums

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