15 English Words of Indian Origin

By Simon Kewin

The English language has absorbed words from cultures the world over. The following is a list of some English words whose origins lie in the Hindi, Urdu or Sanskrit languages spoken in India, Pakistan and other countries. These words have entered English through a variety of routes, but the presence of many dates back to the days of the Raj, when India was occupied by the British.

1. Avatar
In Hinduism, an avatar is the manifestation in human or animal form of a god, especially Vishnu. The word first appeared in English in the 18th century and derives ultimately from the Sanskrit word avatara meaning descent.

More recently the word has gained additional senses, for example to refer to a computer user’s visual representation within a game, on a forum etc.

2. Bangle
A rigid ornamental bracelet worn around the wrist (or ankle). Its appearance in English dates back to the 18th century. It derives from the Hindi word bangri meaning a glass ring or bracelet.

3. Bungalow
A one-storied house. Derives from the Hindi word bangla meaning, literally, in the style of or belonging to Bengal. The word bungalow in English dates back to the 17th century when it was used to refer to a type of cottage built in Bengal for early European settlers.

4. Cheetah
A long-legged big cat from Africa, the fastest land animal on Earth. Its black spots provide the clue to the origins of its name, which derives from the Hindi word cita, meaning speckled or variegated.

5. Chutney
A thick, pickled condiment made from fruit, vinegar, spices and sugar. This word entered the English language in the 19th century and derives from the Hindi word chatni, whose meaning is more or less the same as the English word.

6. Cot
This word has several meanings, but in the sense of a portable bed or a high-sided child’s bed, it derives from the Hindi word khat, meaning a bedstead or hammock. It arrived in the English language during the 17th century.

7. Guru
Originally a Hindu or Sikh spiritual guide, guru entered English in the 17th century, where it now also means any important and respected intellectual guide or mentor. The original word in the Hindi and Sanskrit, also guru, means venerable.

8. Juggernaut
In English, a juggernaut is an unstoppable force or movement that sweeps aside or destroys anything in its path. In the UK it is also used to refer to very large lorries (trucks). The word arrived in English in the 19th century and derives from the word Jagannath, a form of the Hindu deity Vishnu.

9. Jungle
An area of dense vegetation or, by extension, any challenging or hostile environment. It derives from the Hindi word jangal meaning a forest and began to be used in English during the 18th century.

10. Loot
Loot is both a noun and a verb. As a verb it means to ransack, to steal from someone or something, often in a violent way. The noun means whatever is stolen by the act of looting or, simply, any money. The word derives from the Hindi verb lut, meaning to plunder or steal.

11. Pyjamas/Pajamas
A set of loose-fitting sleeping clothes, consisting of a jacket and trousers. The pajama spelling is used in North America. The word entered English in the 19th century. It derives from the Hindi word payjamah, meaning leg (pay) and clothing (jamah).

12. Shampoo
A soapy liquid for washing the hair (or other things such as carpets). It arrived in English in the 18th century and derives from the Hindi word champo, meaning to squeeze, knead or massage.

13. Thug
A brutal or violent person, it derives ultimately from the Hindi word thag meaning a thief or a cheat. It entered the English language early in the 19th century.

14. Veranda/Verandah
A sheltered gallery or terrace attached to a house or some other building. The word began to appear in the English language early in the 18th century. In Hindi, the word varanda has a similar meaning. This is not the source of the word, however, as it is thought to derive from the Portuguese word varanda meaning a balcony.

15. Yoga
This was originally a Sanskrit word meaning yoking or union. It refers to a system of Hindu philosophy concerned with achieving reunion with the divine. A part of this discipline involves meditation, breath control and the adoption of certain postures, which is how the word came to have the sense of a system of physical exercise. It entered English in the 19th century.

Note: Hindi, Urdu and Sanskrit words in this article have been written in a simplified, anglicized form, using the representations employed by the Chambers 21st Century Dictionary.

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8 Responses to “15 English Words of Indian Origin”

  • Dale A. Wood

    What about the word “khaki”, which also comes from that part of the world? Also, “bangalore torpedo”.
    There is an expression that was probably crafted in America from Indian ideas: “Holy cow!”
    D.A.W.

  • Raspal Seni

    Probably this is my first comment on DWT. This list was probably posted due to Indian Republic day yesterday. 🙂 Thanks for this post.

    I knew all of the above words, except Juggernaut. Didn’t know it was derived from Jagannath (there’s a temple by that name too), which is a combo word made up of Jagan (World) + nath (in itself, it would mean husband, but here it means lord).

    I guess there should be many more words. A few of which I had read a while ago:

    Karma, Lantern (Hindi – Laal-ten),
    Mogul (Hindi Mughal),
    Maharajah,
    Pundit, Shawl,
    Typhoon (Hindi/Urdu – Toofaan),
    Khaki (Hindi – Khaa ki),
    Dacoit (Hindi – Daakoo = Robber, Dakait = Robbery),
    Bottle (Hindi – Bo tul)

  • Martyn Winters

    … along with “punch” as in the fruit drink, dinghy, pundit, and jodhpurs.

  • venqax

    Dacoit? I don’t think that word has much currency outside of India. When I see lists like this they seem to start– as promised– with standard English words that come from Whateverese. Like, in this case, punch, jungle, shampoo, thug, loot. Interesting! Never woulda knowed. But then they start reaching with things like yoga, maharajah, karma…not so surprising and not so English. Maharajah is of Indian origin? Imagine that! FYI, “Igloo” comes from an Inuit (Eskimo) word. Just sayin’.

  • Umer Baloch

    There are some other notable such words:

    1) Cummerbund (piece of material worn around the waist): word derived from kamar (waist) and bundh (binding)

    2) Cashmere (Fine downy wool growing in the outer hair of the cashmere goat): A corrupted word originated from state of Kashmir in India, where these goats were found in abundance.

    3) Lantern (Light in a transparent protective case): From Hindi/Urdu word Lalteen, a lighting device of the same kind.

    4) Punch (An iced mixed drink usually containing alcohol and prepared for multiple servings; normally served in a punch bowl): Origin from the drink (named as paantsch) that was originally made with five (derived from paanch(five) in Urdu/Hindi) ingredients: alcohol, sugar, lemon, water, and tea or spices.

    5) Sorbet (drink): Derived from Sharbat (Urdu/Hindi/Arabic)

    6) Typhoon (cyclonic storm): Derived from Toofan word in Urdu, same meaning.

  • Dale A. Wood

    That is interesting about the word “typhoon” coming from Urdu/Hindi.

    This is probably a mistake, but in America, “typhoon” is often attributed to Japanese, just as are “tsunami”, “tycoon”, and “harikari”.

    There was a kind of a Japanese suicide bomb (antiship) that American and British sailors called the “okha”, but that is just the Japanese word for “stupid”. We had enough intelligence officers who were trained in the Japanese language that they told the other sailors and Marines about the word “okha”.
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Concerning the word “loot”. I was amused by a (single-pane) cartoon in which a bunch of barbarians were burning down a Medieval village. Their leader had just ridden up on his horse, and he shouted at the men, “If I told you once, I’ve told you 100 times: it is LOOT and then burn!”
    Would you like to burn it first and then loot it? What a lame idea!
    D.A.W.

  • Srini

    Also Mango is derived from the Malayalam word ‘Manga’ and a reasonably well known word.

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