April 16, 2017

Preponing 'prepone'

For those who haven't come across the word, prepone means to move something to an earlier date or time: quite simply, it is the opposite of postpone. Prepone is widely regarded as an Indian English expression and is often cited as an example of Indian bureaucratese, a clunky babuism like 'do the needful'. Nevertheless, a lot of people find the word reasonably useful and it is gradually being adopted outside India as well. But is it an Indian coinage in the first place? Shashi Tharoor, politician, writer and frequent Upperclass Twit of the Year seems to think so: in fact, he believes he may have made up the word himself.

Yes, and Al Gore invented the Internet. Does Tharoor's claim stand up to scrutiny? If you look up the OED, you'll find that prepone goes back to the 16th century. However, at that point, the word meant 'to place in front of'; the OED quotes Robert Crowley, who wrote “I do prepone and set the Lord alwaye before myne eyes” in 1549. It only seems to have been in the twentieth century that the word was used in its current sense:
To the editor of the New York Times: For the benefit mainly of the legal profession in this age of hurry and bustle may I be permitted to coin the word ‘PREPONE’ as a needed rival of that much revered and oft-invoked standby, ‘postpone.’ John J. D. Trenor, New York, Dec. 5, 1913— ‘New York Times,’ 7 December
Since Trenor is clearly proposing a neologism, one can argue that this nonce use of prepone does not prove Tharoor is making an empty boast. Barring a few stray examples, most of the citations I've found online are from the '80s onwards and almost all from India. Wiktionary has this line from a 1984 New York Times piece on Indian English:
''It is better to make the booking for Tuesday rather than Wednesday so that later you would not have to prepone it,'' the reservations clerk said with what seemed unassailable linguistic logic.
All this indicates that prepone had entered common usage here by the '80s, and was seen as a typically Indian expression. Since Tharoor was working as a journalist in the previous decade (his Wikipedia page notes that he won an award for the Best Indian Journalist under 30 in 1976), his claim regarding prepone isn't entirely implausible, and the only way to disprove it would be to find a citation that predates the bulk of his work. This amusing exchange from a 1972 Lok Sabha Debate does the job, I think; it is quite unlikely that the august members of the House are tossing around a word coined by an obscure college journalist.
SHRI B. V. NAIK : May we know whether there is any possibility of further ‘preponing' the date of commissioning of the Vijaynagar and Visakhapatnam plants ?

SHRI S. MOHAN KUMARAMANGALAM : I am not quite sure about the meaning of that English word ‘preponing'. but I presume that it means that he wants to bring it forward. So far as ‘preponing’ is concerned, every effort is always being made to 'prepone’.

MR. SPEAKER : ‘Poning’ is the common thing between the two.

SHRI S. A. SHAMIM : I hope that this is not unparliamentary. I hope you will find that out.

April 12, 2017

Dipping into Fallon - 2

“I am glad, sir” said a lady to Dr. Johnson, “that you have omitted all improper words from your dictionary.” “I hope I have, madam,” answered the surly sage, “but I see you have been looking for them.”
One test of a dictionary's usefulness is the number of rude words it contains, its stock of everyday slang and coarse language. The lexicographer's approach to these words matters a great deal too. Does he or she coyly switch to sterile Latin when defining these words? Are they dissected clinically, or described with relish in salty language? As I've mentioned in an earlier post, Fallon’s Hindustani-English Dictionary gets it just right with its forays into the earthy and the bawdy. Here's the entry for khaya, a word of Farsi origin I encountered in William Dalrymple's Return of a King, where a variety of grape called khaya-e-ghulaman is described as the finest in Afghanistan. Dalrymple translates the phrase as 'young man's testicles', exactly the kind of weirdness I am unable to resist investigating:
P خايه /khā'yā, n. m. 1. Membrum virile.

Ūṅchā makān jiskā hai pach-khanā so āyā,
Ūpar kā khan ṭapak-kar jab pānī nīche āyā,
Us ne to apne ghar meṅ hai shor o gul machāyā,
Muflis pukārte haiṅ jāne hamārā khāyā!

2. Testicles. Sir se khāyā bhārī. Prov. His testicles are heavier than his head. (A big hat on a small head.)
khāyā bāshad h., (Slang). v. n. To go to pot.
khāyā-bardār, (Slang). n. m. A lickspittle; a cringing, obsequious fellow.
khāyā bardārī, khāyā sahlānā, (Slang) v. a. To cringe or fawn; to beslaver.
Bardari refers to the act of carrying or bearing something, so a khaya-bardar is someone employed to bear another's testicles, a sycophant. John Shakespear's A Dictionary Hindustani and English spins more variations on khaya, providing khaya chumaana ('not to submit to obedience') and khāya-kashīda ('an eunuch'). Fallon also has this satirical verse for the Arabic-origin synonym fatq or fitaq:
Qasd Baṅgāle kā kar dījiye faskh, aë sāhib!
Farz kardam ki wahāṅ jā-ke arākīn hue,
Toṅbe do nikleṅge, ek halq se, ek fitaq se,
Phir to, sāhab, na rahe āp, goyā bīn hue!

All thought of going to Bengal forego!
Grant you're a minister of state raised to,
Two gourds upon your throat and scrotum grown,
You're not yourself but a sitār outblown.

Hi-Hello Friend

Hi-hello friend Colloquial term for a casual acquaintance, fairly common in online forums. Most of the examples I've found seem to confirm my hunch this is primarily an Indian English expression (apart from the odd example from Africa).
Once I happened to meet a guy who was just a HI HELLO friend at that time, we used to come in same shifts, chit chat and just say BYE. (Tech Mahindra Confessions)

Now, we are not talking about a hi-hello friend, Vaks and I were like the best of the best friends. (Dil on the Rocks)

Not just a "hi, hello" friend. I want a friend that I can talk about deep things with as well as joke with. (SFWED Remember It Hurts Community)

Swedish girls are Racist! most Racist in the world and skin color and origin is a big factor for them even to be a hi-hello friend! (Yahoo Answers)

kasturi:'the company taken over by non other than your hi hello friend..' teejay:'what!!!!! Shocked ..is it robbie??? (India Forums)

April 02, 2017

Dipping into Fallon's Dictionary

S W Fallon’s A New Hindustani-English Dictionary (1879) is regarded as one of the most remarkable works of Indian lexicography. With its illustrations from folklore, proverbs, songs, and literature, it is a lot more than a mere dictionary: like that other great glossary of the colonial era, Hobson-Jobson, it carves up an entire culture and serves it up in tasty, chewable bits. Fallon took up the language of north India in the late 19th century as his field of study, the common colloquial speech which was then being thrust out of sight in official use as well as literature by an artificial written language of 'stiff pompous words, strange Arabic sounds which have no meaning for the people, and the dull cold clay of Sanskrit forms'. As Ambarish Satwik writes in his column, to open Fallon is to 'see the invisible stream that flows all around us, full of things we have left unsaid':
On its pages is found the sap and wit of the north Indian vernacular: the common stock of allusions that once played in the minds and memories of its speakers and disseminators. Language that is both ordinary and heightened, rank and sweet, and lingers in the mind. To borrow from Kenneth Burke, language that brings out the thisness of that or the thatness of this. 
In an article in Dawn, Rauf Parekh writes that Fallon knew the value of field research in lexicography. With the help of his native informants, he recorded the words and idioms used by women, and interviewed ordinary people to understand usage and pronunciation. In an aside, Parekh notes that this led Fallon to use lewd or taboo words 'and he sort of developed a taste for such expressions'.

Fallon's lack of prudery and his emphasis on descriptive rather than prescriptive lexicography is what sets him apart from most Hindi/Urdu lexicographers. It also makes his dictionary a great read. Satwik recommends a weekly dip into its pages, which I think is a most excellent idea. So here's a first dubki into Fallon's ocean of words - this uncommon word is one of the many oddities he's collected:

Ardor urinae, I discovered, is an obsolete medical term for a scalding sensation during urination. The Hindi word, however, is as colloquial as they come, and is used here in an earthy metaphor about the dangers of yielding to temptation. (I suspect the word is related to चिनगारी , chingari, which is a spark or flying ember rising from a flame). 

More Fallon next week: meanwhile, if you want to join the  trawl, you can search the dictionary here or download it here

March 26, 2017

The Libtard's Indian Cousins

Anyone who's observed or participated in a political discussion in recent times is probably familiar with the word libtard, a derogatory term for anyone with liberal or left-wing political views. It's a portmanteau word, formed by grafting 'liberal' and 'retard' together, which should tell you that this is a fairly offensive slur. I can't find anything online that establishes definitively who coined the word, or where it was used first. On Quora, there's some speculation that it was created by Rush Limbaugh or one of his speechwriters; one commenter notes that the blogger Madison Slade aka Moxie claimed to have invented it. It's dated early 21st century in most places - a quick Google search uncovered an example from 2004, though of course, it's always possible that the word was in use informally in the nineties, as some people have claimed on Yahoo Answers.  

Libtard is such a Twitter word, I thought of checking when it was first used there. To my surprise, it didn't come into circulation on Twitter till 2008, when the twitter handle began using it as a hashtag along with other right-wing Twitterers (Is that a word? I refuse to use 'Tweeple').  Unsurprisingly, most of the Indian variants of the word appear to have been coined and flung around quite liberally in the heated run-up to the 2014 general elections, which brought out armies of trolls who supported the Gujarati politician Narendra Modi's rise to the national political scene. Here's a brief genealogy of libtard's Indian relatives, along with the earliest tweet I could find which used the neologism in question. Statutory warning: all these words are offensive and absolutely not to be used in polite conversation.

Namtard, Namotard

A supporter of Narendra Modi. Portmanteau word using the politician's Hindi initials (Na. Mo. न. मो.) Modi's critics tend to pun on his initials to deride his followers as sheep, since they form the Sanskrit word namo नमो, which means 'I bow'.

A supporter of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which opposes Narendra Modi's Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

A supporter of Narendra Modi. From the Hindi slang word 'feku', one who spins lies or makes tall claims - the root word is phenkna, to throw out.  A frequent accusation against Narendra Modi in the 2014 elections was that he made promises he couldn't possibly keep.

A supporter of Rahul Gandhi, a Congress (I) leader who BJP supporters call Pappu - a dismissive nickname for a young boy.

From bhakt, a devotee. A derogatory word for an unquestioning follower of right-wing ideologies, or a fan of Narendra Modi. A religious bent is implied.  
Indian Twitter users tend to coin portmanteau words like these all the time. The practice is not limited to politics: loyal fans of the actor Salman Khan (nicknamed bhai, or brother) are sometimes derogatorily called bhaitards.

March 19, 2017


The South China Morning Post runs a language column titled Language Matters by Lisa Lim, which occasionally picks up Indian words that have been adopted in Hong Kong English. Many of these words are the legacy of a shared colonial past, borrowed by the English in India and taken by them to the other colonies they ruled in Asia. A recent column deals with one such word, which is now rarely used in its colonial form in Indian English. As Lim points out, the word shroff, which is related to the Gujarati saraf, has fallen out of use elsewhere, but survives in Hong Kong English. It entered the language via Portuguese, which was the lingua franca of Asian ports before the English came to these shores.
As far back as the early 1600s, the word “shroff” – including the forms “shrofe”, “sheroffe” and “sheraff” – has been used in the English language. It was documented in colonial writings on India, referring to local Asian bankers or money changers in the British East Indies. The word entered English via the Anglo-Indian English “sharaf”, but its origins lie in the Arabic sarrāf (“money-changer”), entering Persian as sarrāf , and Gujarati as šaraf in the period of Perso-Arabic influence over the language during the mid-13th to mid-19th centuries of Persian Muslim rule – the Delhi sultanate and the Mughal empire – in the Indian subcontinent.It entered Portuguese as xaraffo during the European coloniser’s long occupation in India from the mid-16th century – referring to customs officers and money-changers, and also providing us with xarafaggio (“shroffage”, the xaraffo’s commission), as noted in a 1585 colonial report from Goa.
 Hobson-Jobson defines shroff  as an expert employed by banks and mercantile firms 'to check the quality of the dollars that pass into the houses'. Over the years shroff has meant many different things – money changer, silver expert, customs officer, court money collector, cashier’s office – but is now used narrowly in Hong Kong to refer to a cashier, cashier’s office or payment booth, in government offices, hospitals and car parks. Meanwhile in India, the word is more commonly encountered as a Gujarati surname and any mention of shroffage would probably bring this to mind.

March 12, 2017

Catty Christs in Kolkata

Since I havent posted here in a while, I have a backlog of links to share. For starters, heres a Caravan essay by Chitralekha Basu on how English turns Bengali in Kolkata. The passage Im quoting here provides some some examples of Hobson-Jobsonism from the 19th century Bengali satire Hutom Pyanchar Naksha:
Plenty of instances of tweaking and twisting English may be found in Hootum Pyanchar Naksha, a series of vignettes published in the form of stand-alone chapbooks over 1861 and 1862, which lampooned the social mores of nineteenth-century Kolkata. In this first work of modern Bengali prose, written by Kaliprasanna Sinha under the pen name “Hootum”—screech owl, in Bengali—“subpoena” is tenderised to “sawfen,” and “phaeton” is recast as “pheting,” almost as if to resonate with the sound of its juddering journey down Kolkata’s potholed roads (which haven’t changed all that much in a century and a half). The last consonant of “warrant” is dropped to turn it into “warrin,” almost as a throwback to David Copperfield. Chemistry is fondly shortened to “chemia.”
In his sketches on Kolkata’s social life, Sinha reinvented “catechist” as “Catty-Christ.” “Jackson” was rendered “Jakh Sen,” which could pass as a Bengali name. “Tartar emetic” was compressed to “Tartametic”—suggesting that this vomit-inducing medicine, often administered to patients suffering from the deadly kala-azar, was both quick and efficient—and the words “grand jury” were transliterated to something sounding very close to “grandeur.”
Basu has previously translated Kaliprasanna Sinha’s work into English under the title Sketches by Hootum the Owl: A Satirist’s View of Colonial Calcutta. The foreword is by the novelist Amit Chaudhuri, whose observations on Sinha’s racy chalit style (‘all imagery and language, in a way that at once looks forward to the world of modernism, especially to the great novels about citiesUlysses comes to mindwhich increasingly abandon the notions of character, description, and subject-matter, and become predominantly an efflorescence of language’) can be found here.

March 02, 2017

'A Nose like a Pontiac'

Parsi Bol 2 is an updated edition of Sooni Taraporevala and Meher Marfatia's very entertaining book on Parsi insults, endearments and other Parsi Gujarati phrases (see below). This one adds over 300 idioms, illustrations and a CD of phrases voiced by theatre actors Dolly and Bomi Dotiwala, as well as film actor Boman Irani. 

A selection of colourful, eccentric phrases from reviews of the book in Quint, Daily Pao and the Indian Express:
Dhoila moora jhevo pacho ayo (literally 'returned looking like a washed out radish', figuratively, 'returned without achieving anything')

Edya nee juherkhubur jhevoo mohnoo (literally, ‘face like an advertisement for castor oil’, figuratively,‘dour-faced’),

Fuskaila darum jhevoo dachoo (literally ‘face like a cracked pomegranate’; figuratively ‘grinning widely’)

Leedoo apee neh eedo leedho (literally ‘give a goat’s turd and ask for an egg’, figuratively ‘give nothing and take much’)

Nahi agasee nahi otlo (literally, ‘neither a balcony nor a verandah’, figuratively, ‘a woman with neither boobs nor bum’)

Nuseeb ma doodhee (literally, 'cheap pumpkin in your destiny', figuratively, 'to achieve nothing in life')

Suhrah chhuh noh kato (literally, ‘hands of the clock at 6.30’, figuratively, ‘impotent’)
 As in the earlier version of the book, the most vivid metaphors involve fruits, vegetables and sundry dishes, reflecting the Parsi community's love of food. The Parsi penchant for cracking an egg on everything from okra to goatmeat is satirised in the fine phrase aafat par eedu - the word aafat would translate here as 'problem' or 'calamity', so that's a fiasco with a fried egg on top, a fuck-up with a culinary flourish.

January 16, 2014


Parsi Bol, a Gujarati-English phrasebook which catalogues the caustic insults and salty lingo of the Parsi community. From Time Out :
Photographer-filmmaker Sooni Taraporevala and writer Meher Marfatia have come up with a book called Parsi Bol: Insults, Endearments and other Parsi Gujarati Phrases. The book is a collection of 730 phrases, which the writers believe are as much a part of the community’s heritage as exquisitely embroidered garas and lagan-nu-achaar. “Like everything about our community, our language – Parsi Gujarati – is completely our own and nowhere is this more evident than in the phrases we use: unique, inventive, lively, often combining wildly opposing things,” states the introduction to this compilation. “We want to archive the gems we grew up hearing, before the generation that knows them dies out.” 
Mumbai Boss has some more examples of eccentric Parsi creativity from the book: 
It takes some imagination to come up with a line like “Oont nee gaan ma jeera no vughar”, which literally means “a sprinkling of jeera in the bum of the camel”, a phrase uttered when someone with a large appetite is offered little food. Not surprisingly the bum is frequently (we couldn’t resist the pun) the butt of the joke. If you want to insult a fence sitter, call him a “gaan vugur no loto”, a vessel without a bum. You can say of someone who’s ignorant that “gaan neh soodhlo nathi”, meaning his arse is clueless. And our favourite, for sheer silliness, is “motai na musa”, meaning haemorrhoids of greatness, to be used to carp about someone who has delusions of grandeur.
My favourite phrases are the ones that evoke surreal images:
Chumna jeva pug (Feet like pomfrets) - Large feet 
Mai mooro bap gajar (Father a radish, mother a carrot) - Mixed fare
Ghudeeyal chai peeyech (The clock is out drinking tea) - Time is passing slowly 

May 23, 2013

Mumbai glossary

The current issue of Time Out Mumbai has a glossary of "city slang, lingo and khali pili faltu giri". A few random selections that range from old favourites (ghanta) to recent coinages (raita phalana) to the mystifying (gajkaran, where does that come from?):
aand mat chaba Same as paka mat, although “aand” means the skin on the scrotum. Variation: aandwa. “Wear your seatbelt ya! Pandu pakdega toh aand chabayega”.
babaji ka ghanta Balls! From a nude babaji (holy man)’s gently swaying junk. Often shortened to just ghanta, meaning zippo, “yeah, right”. 
bakchodi Generally faffing, talking rubbish, doing nothing or “taking someone’s trip”. “We didn’t do anything productive, we were just doing bakchodi.” 
champu A dorky looking person, with oiled hair, thickrimmed specs and so on. 
chop To be humiliated or distressed. “I tripped on the marble and fell face-first. Itni chop hui. 
gajkaran Someone who loves Itchguard.
heights Often used in an exclamation indicating something like, “This is too much!” A stand-out line from Jab We Met where a characater proclaims, “Yeh toh heights hai!” 
lenduk Literally, a turd 
matka maarna To bunk. “Aaj physics ko matka marte hain yaar.” 
matter hona The patois version of, “something has happened”. “Arre solid matter happened in the building after the Holi party.” 
raita phail gaya The shit hit the fan. “The princi caught us smoking in the loo – raita phail gaya.” 
todu A multi-tasking word with several variations. Runs the gamut from “great” to “excellent” to “fantastic”. The degree varies with the number of notional exclamation marks at the end of the delivery.
More here. There's also a Twitter hashtag where you can #bolbambai  

May 05, 2013

David Crystal on Indian English

Daal gosht

Mumbai Mirror report on street vendors of mobile phone porn includes some of their jargon. Read about kaand videos,  staged to resemble amateur MMS scandal clips, and code words like daal gosht and pelampaal.
It's hardly a secret that several of the city's cell phone repair shops and SIM card kiosks that flaunt a computer, stock smut in secret folders marked by gibberish names. "We get some women, too," one owner says. "They say, "Zara woh waale movies daal dena."  
Which brings you to the rules of the mobile-porn-off-the-street universe.  
A blunt demand for a blue film clip will send shopkeepers into a shell. Some may even express mock disgust at your request. Blame it on random raids by the State Anti-Piracy Cell. Around South Mumbai's markets, for instance, code words 'Daal gosht' or 'Pelampaal' put the Flashing-Loading-Repairing stall owners at ease. 

February 26, 2012

February 13, 2012

Goat dressed as mutton dressed as lamb

Some day I'll write an essay about misnaming in Indian English: the many tangled reasons which lead people in this country to use the word swan for a goose, autumn for the rainy season, and so on.  Meanwhile, here's food critic Vir Sanghvi on why mutton stands for goat meat in Indian restaurant menus.
Just as every MP begins his or her career with a lie – by saying that total electoral expenditure was under the limit – so every chef and restaurant manager who writes a menu usually starts out with a lie of his or her own. The lie consists of a description of the red meat that is used in the kitchen. Often, the menu will simply say ‘mutton’. This is a term widely used in the culinary world to describe meat from a sheep. The term ‘lamb’ is restricted to young sheep. If the meat comes from an older animal then ‘mutton’ is used. It is the sort of distinction embodied by the phrase ‘mutton dressed as lamb’, commonly employed to describe older women who try and dress young. 
The problem, of course, is that the kitchen does not use mutton, no matter what it says on the menu. The chances are that the chef is using goat, a meat for which the term mutton is never used outside of India. Some chefs and menu writers go further with their evasions. In the descriptive line below such menu staples as seekh kebab and raan, they will use lamb instead of goat. So, a seekh kebab will be described as ‘minced lamb cooked on a skewer in the tandoor’ and a raan as ‘leg of lamb’.
The HT Brunch article can be found here

February 11, 2012

Vote Banks

With assembly elections coming up, the newspapers are full of the jargon of India's electoral politics. 'Vote Bank' is one such phrase, which refers to a bloc of voters from a social group - a caste or community or religious minority, say - which can be counted on to back a specific party or candidate consistently. But who coined the term, and how did it come into use? This column by Ramachandra Guha in The Hindu traces the phrase back to a seminal 1955 essay by the sociologist M N Srinivas titled 'The Social System of a Mysore Village', quoting the paragraph where it first appeared.
The word “party” has become a Kannada word. Every administrator and politician speaks of “party politics” in villages, and even villagers are often heard saying, “There is too much ‘party’ in such and such a village”. The coming of elections gives fresh opportunities for the crystallization of parties around patrons. Each patron may be said to have a “vote bank” which he can place at the disposal of a provincial or national party for a consideration which is not mentioned but implied. The secret ballot helps to preserve the marginal affiliation of the marginal clients.
As Guha points out, the meaning of the phrase has shifted since then, referring not to patrons and their clients, but 'a collective political preference exercised by a particular interest group'. See also the entry in Wikipedia, which adds that the meaning of Srinivas' expression was first modified by F. G. Bailey, a professor of anthropology at the University of California, San Diego, in his 1959 book Politics and Social Change.