June 23, 2019

Pardon My Farsi

Himadri Roy on 'Farsi', a lost gay argot used in Delhi:
Nouns like panthi, koti, niharan, dhurani, jogta, danga were used with simplicity to mean the ‘man’ in a gay relationship, the ‘woman’ in a gay relationship, the girl friend of the gay partner, the gay partner who has a girlfriend, the ‘female’ in a lesbian relationship, and the ‘man’ in a lesbian relationship, respectively. The first two were used for gays, the third and foruth were for bisexuals and the last two were for lesbian people. Even the genitals also were talked about very openly in Farsi –like the penis was termed as lickum, or the breasts were termed with fruits, a huge breast would be termed as nariyal (coconut) and small-size breasts were called as anardana (pomegranate seeds).
More examples here. Kira Hall's work and other academic studies indicate that 'Farsi' is not limited to Delhi but is a more widely used argot evolved by the hijra community.

November 27, 2018

July 09, 2017

Life Has Become Ladies' Finger

In 'Word of the Day', a daily column that ran in the Bangalore Mirror through the latter half of 2015, writer Sriram Aravamudan, who describes himself as a 'gardener, baker, comedian and all-round Bengalurean', compiles many entertaining examples of the city's street lingo. Some of these may be familiar from other online glossaries of Kannada slang (bombat, pigar, one thara), but I found a great deal of evidence that Aravamudan is a diligent eavesdropper with an ear for everything from college jargon to Anglo-Indian speech. Yes, the infamous bad word curry is here, served with some devil's chutney on the side.
Bad Word Curry: An Anglo-Indian dinnertime favourite. It's a cheeky euphemism for balls curry, usually made with minced mutton or chicken meatballs in a spicy gravy. They are perfect accompaniments to appam, sannas or even parathas.

Example: "'Waiter, waiter.." "Yes madam."

"What's bad word curry?" "It's mutton kheema in a gravy madam."

"Yes, but why is it called bad word curry?"

"Err.. I'll call the manager to explain, madam."
Since the site's archive is not easy to navigate, I'm going to compile a few more entries here. Aravamudan notes many hybrid Kanglish (Kannada + English) phrases (don't worry madkobedi, galabarskofy) along with some constructed by applying the rules of Kannada usage to English:
Commey commu (Kam-mey kam-moo): Commey commu (Kam-mey kam-moo): A Kanglicization of the Kannada phrase 'bandhe barthare', meaning 'will definitely come'. The phrase is used to stress the coming, indicating definite arrival of the parties concerned. Example: "Don't take your bridal gown off yet ma putta. The groom will commey commu." Or, "Hello contractor-avarey! Where is the sand load delivery? From morning you are telling it will commey commu, but nothing has commu. I think driver has taken my money and is putting rummu somewhere."
Simp-simply: A direct translation of the Kannada phrase 'sum-sumne' meaning, for no reason at all. It's used mostly to complain about unjust actions, or bad behaviour: Example: "Sir I am the innocent. Simp-simply nurse Manjula is putting allegations on me." Or: "Aye boss, simp-simply don't go on irritating me okay. Sud-suddenly I will get angry and give you nice beatings."
There are a few phrases that seem suspect to me. I'm not sure if they're common in the city of boiled beans; it does look like Aravamudan is indulging himself with joke translations of Kannada idiom. I don't really care, as long I'm allowed to use these fine phrases and sigh on occasion that my 'life has become ladies' finger' or pitiably like a 'baduku bus stand'.

July 06, 2017

Forty Names of Clouds

In a land where rainfall is scarce, the act of reading the skies and attempting to name the unattainable becomes unbearably poignant. Arati-Kumar Rao on the language of the Thar:
The act of naming — chhinto for a drizzle of rain or ghuTyo for the asphyxiating stillness of un-raining clouds — is a way of paying homage, recognizing worth, according importance of these events that are vital to their survival.

These ambling geographers, these mojri-and-saafa clad ecologists, read the land and know how to “divine” water. They can tell ubreLyo (spent clouds) from dhundh (clouds heavier than the light cottony paans); follow the baaval (petrichor) towards as yet unseen kaLaan (heavy rain clouds); recognize over eighty different desert species of plants from aak to zillon, and know the behaviors of sandgrouse and spiny-tailed lizard, chinkara and bustard.

It is a lived, intensely local knowledge. They find words for what they see and experience, they pass on these words, and individual knowledge grows into collective knowledge. They are the archivists of the desert.
Elsewhere, Rao presents a landscape glossary that compiles all the words of the Thar that are being lost: evocative dialect names for clouds like cotton blankets and clouds patterned like partridge wings.
kanThi: cumulus clouds on the horizon
oomb: low white blanket of clouds, early in the morning
paNi-haari: clouds that resemble women carrying water pots on their heads
teetar pankhi: cirro cumulus clouds, resembling the pattern on a partridge’s wings
paans: consolidated teetar pankhi clouds forming a light uneven blanket
seekote: light winter clouds on the horizon, resembling dunes
ubrelyuo: passing clouds, probably spent
chhoyo: clouds that are just beginning to rain
miLuvDa: cool gathered clouds alternating light & shade
chhanvLiya: diffused light from clouds
ghor: dense thunder clouds rumbling in fury
dhaarolyou: a small veil of rain bridging cloud and earth
lukho: a lone tuft of cloud
parlaavon: clouds reflecting far away lightning.

July 04, 2017

Periya Emden

On the night of 22nd September 1914, a lone German cruiser slipped unnoticed into the waters off Chennai. Once the ship was in range, its commander Karl von Müller gave his crew the order to attack the city. The powerful beam of a lighthouse revealed a potential target: three fuel tanks belonging to the Burma Oil Company. For half an hour, the German gunners bombarded over 130 shells at the city, first setting the tanks ablaze and then firing at the High Court, the Port Trust and other prominent city buildings. A merchant ship went down in the harbour, killing five sailors. By the time the British guns retaliated, the SMS Emden had sailed away. It left behind a fearful, devastated city. Thousands tried to flee, fearing another raid; prices of commodities shot up, and trade was paralysed. The damage to the economy was estimated at a million pounds, notes Srabani Basu.

The memory of the Emden raid has survived in the city's folklore, and in its vocabulary as well. In colloquial Tamil, an emden or amdan is a person who acts with audacious daring - unafraid to take on anyone, whatever the odds. A quick search on the Internet shows that emden is defined variously as 'a daring and capable person', 'a particularly cunning person' or 'manipulative and crafty'. Parallel Tamil terms are cited - jithan, eththan, killadi (which I presume is slang derived from the Hindi khiladi). The word collocates frequently with periya (big) in phrases used to disparage smart alecks and blowhards:
In chennai if someone behaves arrogantly we ask them do you think you are emden or what? (Nee enna periya emden aa?) (Indian Defence)
Emden was a famous ship during the war time.... there is still a cliche in TN wen someone does something big unexpected or is kinda adamant, they say 'periya emden thaan ivan'!! (Balaji's Thots)
In the thirties and forties the word ‘Emden’ was a metaphor (in Madras) for someone thought to be super-clever and go-getter. “Avan periya Emden-da” (is he the Big Emden?) was the expression heard in Madras lot of times. (The Intuitive Traveller)
This appears to be the more common usage of the word. Here and there, emden has been defined as someone who is tough, strong and unbendable. A Hindu article on Tamil slang derived from colonial-era expressions provides the meaning 'strict, authoritative' and adds this note:
This is usually used to describe someone very strict by nature; boys call the strict elder of the village ‘Emden’ and describe his arrival to a place as ‘Emden vanduttan’. Emden is actually the name of a German ship that bombarded Madras in 1914 and created a lot of panic. One of actor Bharath’s films was originally titled Emden Magan (later changed to Em Magan) to denote a strict father.
Chennai city historian S Muthiah, who is also an amateur lexicographer includes emden in his guide to Words in Indian English, where it is defined flatly as 'a brave man'. The word is also found in Sinhala and in Malayalam, where a variant, yemandan, is an adjective meaning 'unusually huge and/or powerful' according to this article on Malayalam slang.
Even today people in North Kerala call dark stout guys ‘Yumunden’ without knowing that the origin of the name was the hulking WW1 German frigate SMS Emden. (Maddy's Ramblings)
Curiously enough, the Tamil usage of 'periya Emden' is echoed in an Australian catchphrase. After a round of daring exploits in the Indian Ocean, the Emden was finally brought down by the Australian cruiser Sydney at Cocos Islands in 1914. The victory was much celebrated in Australian films of the time and gave birth to this expression about colossal conceit, noted by Eric Partridge in his Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English:
didn't you sink the 'Emden'? An Aus. army c.p.(1915-18) contemptuous of arrogance or too good a 'press'.

June 18, 2017

The War on Misguided Youth

Aditya Sinha's amusing New York Times piece on the Indian bureaucracy's love of euphemism:
If the “War on Terror” had been undertaken by the government of India, it probably would have been called the “War on Misguided Youth.” That’s because in the 1980s and ’90s, when New Delhi was trying to suppress separatist movements in Punjab, Kashmir and Assam, each official speech and classified document used the euphemism “misguided youth” to refer to young men who had rejected the idea of India and had taken to arms.

Such a tame euphemism conjures images of sulky teenagers falling into bad company at the school playground, rather than the reality of politically active young people challenging the existing order. Undoubtedly, by understating the movement’s potency, the euphemism also served to undermine it. As India’s government did not send in a battery of guidance counselors to settle grievances but instead sent in the Indian Army to subdue the “boys,” India’s war on terror might even have been called “Befitting Reply to Misguided Youth.” The army likes to talk in terms of giving fitting and befitting replies; it not only gives a sense of the other guy having started it, but it also sounds gentlemanly, as if war were cricket and it was now the home side’s turn at bat.

The Indian Army isn’t much different from the Pentagon in using euphemisms that seek to give a clinical gloss to the essential job of militaries, which is killing. The only difference is that where the Pentagon is Orwellian in its language, the Indian Army is Wodehousian. Thus the government never tires of declaring to its citizenry: “Our armed forces are prepared for any misadventure,” as it did in its response to the fourth war with Pakistan in 1999 in Kargil in Jammu and Kashmir. A lethal battle on the disputed border is routinely described as a skirmish. Perhaps, then, the war on terror would correctly be called, in Indian officialese, “Befitting Reply to Misguided Youth’s Misadventures”.

Slang Sighting: 2×2 Talkies

Via the city guide Mumbai Boss, now defunct:
Gaysi, the chaps behind LGBT open mic night Dirty Talk, return this Sunday, April 6 with 2×2 Talkies, a series of film screenings that borrows its name from the street lingo that denotes a place where gay men meet covertly.

Slang Sighting: Downtwo

This was described to me as a slang term for testicles, used at St Andrew's School in Bandra, Mumbai. 'Bugger, I'll kick you in your downtwo, you'll go crying for your mama'.

भाखा बहता नीर: language is like flowing water

I'm not too sure where I came first across this line of Kabir's, which describes his views on language in a pithy epigrammatic style, contrasting the dead Sanskrit of ancient religious texts with bhakha or bhasha (literally 'language'), the colloquial living language of his time which he used in his own verse.'संस्करित है कूप जल, भाखा बहता नीर' it reads: Sanskrit is like stagnant water in a well, but bhakha, the true language of the people, changes constantly and cannot be bound by rules, like flowing water. That's a lot to convey in just six words, and I'm curious what the second line of the couplet could be. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find it online. If any reader can provide it, I'll be most grateful.

Update: MMcM, a reader at Languagehat, has posted a link to the book Gujarat and its Literature by KM Munshi, which quotes the entire couplet along with some additional verses.
संस्कृतहि पंडित कहै, बहुत करै अभिमान
भाषा जानि तरक करै, ते नर मूढ़ अजान
संस्करित संसार में, पंडित करै बखान
भाषा भक्ति दृढावही, न्यारा पद निरबान
संस्करित है कूप जल, भाषा बहता नीर
भाषा सतगुरु सहित है, सतमत गहिर गंभीर
Here's my loose translation, based on Munshi's prose rendition. In the last line I've used an alternative version I found, which has सरल instead of गहिर:
The pandit spouts Sanskrit and preens arrogantly:
'The man who would argue in bhasha is an ignorant fool!'
The pandit praises Sanskrit through the entire world
But in bhasha alone is firm faith, the verse of salvation
Sanskrit is water in a well, bhasha a running stream
Bhasha is one with the true guru, the true word simple and deep
It's interesting to read the entire couplet and see how the meaning of the line I quoted has changed. It's about language, yes, but it is also about the search for truth. A paradox is introduced: Sanskrit may be the repository of classical knowledge, a well from which many have drunk, but its still waters do not run as deep as the flowing stream of bhasha, in which one may stand and look all the way through to the profound truth.

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 were 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