October 26, 2005

September 15, 2005

Your aunty is showing

First it was low-slung chaddi-revealing jeans. Now there's another mention of unmentionables in the current issue of Time Out Mumbai:

A compound noun formed by joining the syllables cha and bra. Rhymes with sir. Shorthand for chaddi-bra, it's a Marathi synonym for lingerie.
Usage: Chee. All you see on page 3 is skinny models going to parties wearing only cha-bra.
Who writes this stuff anyway? Some Maharashtrian tai with an underwear fetish?

September 13, 2005

Sri Lankan English

The September 2005 issue of the OED Newsletter contains an article by Richard Boyle, one of the OED's consultants, which looks at the history of Sri Lankan English. A useful overview of the subject from the author of Knox's Words, a study of words of Sri Lankan origin recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary.

September 04, 2005

Slang sighting: Dedhfutia

Dedfutia was the name of Sanjay Narvekar's character in Vaastav, the Mahesh Manjrekar film about Mumbai's underworld. The word is Marathi slang for a midget ('one-and-a-half-footer' is the literal translation) and is currently Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray's favoured epithet for State Revenue Minister Narayan Rane.

While addressing Sainiks from Rane's Sindhudurg district, Thackeray used what he proudly calls, Thackeri (street-language that is generally below the belt) and called Rane a variety of names. These included: bhadwa (pimp), dedhfutya (referring to his short stature), vasoolmantri (extortion minister), phurse (poisonous snake) and a mad dog. (Mid-Day, September 3, 2005)

August 27, 2005

Slang Sighting: Thumbs Up

Illiterate, uneducated. A reference to the Hindi idiom 'angootha chhaap', which describes illiterate individuals who place thumb impressions on documents in lieu of signatures.
"Most of these people including me are 'thumbs up' (uneducated)," said a 37-year-old Gujarati trader. (Hindustan Times, August 26, 2005)

August 24, 2005

Asian Voices in the UK

Voices is an ambitious BBC project that maps changes in regional accents and dialects in the UK. There's a wealth of material on the website, which includes over a thousand clips, links to many radio shows based on the BBC surveys, and a mini-site on the Asian Network, which deals with the languages of the Asian community. Here, you can contribute words to a Desi Dictionary or listen to Southall Punjabis talking about Pinglish, a cross between Punjabi and English. There's also a breakfast series called Out of English, which explores how Asian words are slipping into common English usage.

Elsewhere on the Voices site, there's an interesting article about the speech of the East End. I've written about Benglish earlier: the BBC's research shows that this dialect is replacing Cockney in parts of London.

Speaking in an interview for BBC Voices, Sue Fox, a socio-linguist at the Queen Mary College, University of London says that a new dialect is emerging to replace Cockney and that it's a mixture between English and Bangladeshi... Fox's findings are the result of her research into the way that Cockney is being influenced by the speech of Bangladeshi and other communities in Tower Hamlets. In the interview with the BBC Fox says: "This is very exciting for linguists - the language of London is changing. The majority of young people of school age are of Bangladeshi origin and this has had tremendous impact on the dialect spoken in the area.

"What I've actually found with the young people in Tower Hamlets is that they are using a variety of English which is not traditionally associated with cockney English - it's a variety that we might say is Bangladeshi-accented. And in turn what I've found is that some adolescents of white British origin are also using these features in their speech as well".
David Crystal sees this phenomenon repeating itself in cities across the UK, as foreign languages and regional dialects mix and influence each other:

For example, in Liverpool as well as the traditional Scouse accent you will hear distinct Caribbean-Scouse, African-Scouse as well as Indian-Scouse accents. In Cardiff I've heard a number of accent mixes that weren't previously heard before such as Cardiff-Arabic and Cardiff-Hindi. This pattern is repeating itself in many urban communities across the UK, people are especially keen to develop a strong sense of local identity.
Fascinating stuff. Unfortunately, there aren't any recordings of Cardiff Hindi or Indian Scouse on the site, though I did find this clip of Lancashire Urdu...

August 11, 2005

Two Tongues

I've been experimenting with Indic IMEs, software that allows you to use the English QWERT keyboard to enter text in Indian languages. I thought I'd try my hand at an unfamilar script, so I downloaded the Gujarati IME and typed up an excerpt from Sujata Bhatt's bilingual poem, 'Search For My Tongue', which mixes Gujarati lines with English transliterations. The task was surprisingly easy, though I must admit that the script isn't difficult to grasp if you're familiar with Devnagari. Anyway, here's the excerpt, which describes what it's like to have 'two tongues in your mouth'.

You ask me what I mean
by saying I have lost my tongue.
I ask you, what would you do
if you had two tongues in your mouth,
and lost the first one, the mother tongue,
and could not really know the other,
the foreign tongue.
You could not use them both together
even if you thought that way.
And if you lived in a place where you had to
speak a foreign tongue--
your mother tongue would rot,
rot and die in your mouth
until you had to spit it out.
I thought I spit it out
but overnight while I dream,

મને હુતું કે આબ્બી જીભ આબ્બી ભાષા
munay hutoo kay aakhee jeebh aakhee bhasha
મેં થૂંકી નાબી છે
may thoonky nakhi chay
પરંતુ રાત્રે સ્વપ્નાંમાં મારી ભાષા પાછી આવે છે
parantoo rattray svupnama mari bhasha pachi aavay chay
ફુલની જેમ મારી ભાષા મારી જીભ
foolnee jaim mari bhasha mari jeebh
મોઢામાં બીલે છે
moddhama kheelay chay
ફુલની જેમ મારી ભાષા મારી જીભ
fullnee jaim mari bhasha mari jeebh
મોઢામાં પાકે છે
moddhama pakay chay

it grows back, a stump of a shoot
grows longer, grows moist, grows strong veins,
it ties the other tongue in knots,
the bud opens, the bud opens in my mouth,
it pushes the other tongue aside.
Everytime I think I have forgotten,
I think I have lost the mother tongue,
it blossoms out of my mouth.
If you can't see the Gujarati text, here's some help. You may also need to download a Gujarati Unicode font.

August 10, 2005

Is your Hinglish up to speed?

That's the question asked in the press release for the revised second edition of the Oxford Dictionary of English, published today in the United Kingdom. The new edition includes several common words of South Asian origin, like desi, lehnga, Lollywood, masala, mehndi, tamasha, and of course, Hinglish, defined as 'a blend of Hindi and English, in particular a variety of English used by speakers of Hindi, characterized by frequent use of Hindi vocabulary or constructions'. There are a few surprise entries in the list:

Kitty party noun (chiefly Indian) a regular gathering of a group of women (usually over a meal) in which each member contributes to a central pool and lots are drawn to decide which member will get the entire sum as well as who will host the next gathering.

adjective (Indian informal) carefree, fashionable and independent-minded.
You can find the complete list of new words and phrases here.

Alexander McCall Smith on Indian English

'Indian English has got this gorgeous dignity still, and the rhythms of the language and the correctness, the structure is still there,' says the creator of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency in the Hindu Literary Review .

August 05, 2005

The Night of the Gutters

Today is the last day of the month in the Hindu calendar, from tomorrow begins the month of Shravan, during which many Hindus abstain from alcohol and non-vegetarian food. It's a day of indulgence for many people, a last chance to drink yourself silly till you fall into a gutter. That's why it's called Gutteri Amavas, the night of the gutters. Happy drinking!

August 04, 2005

Luck by fuck

In Mumbai street talk, things don't happen by chance, they happen 'luck by chance'. And now in Bandra, the locals have a new spin on this colloquial expression: over here, things happen 'luck by fuck'.

August 03, 2005

Swalpa adjust maadi

Libran Lover warns outsiders off this supposedly quintessential Bangalore phrase, which means 'Please adjust a little'.

You are using that phrase because you have either already done something that requires you to apologize to a Bangalorean or you are about to impose on him/her. Don't make it worse for the poor Bangalorean by throwing in that phrase in your pathetic accent. Hearing that phrase coming out of your clumsy mouth would induce Bangaloreans to have reactions ranging from simply smiling at you in their sweet indulgent way to grabbing your head and bashing it against the nearest electricity pole.
You can find the complete rant here.

July 30, 2005


Recently, I've been intrigued by mentions of Benglish in the UK press. It sounds quite unlike anything an Indian would call Benglish or Bonglish: this new variety has been described as a London vernacular that crosses West Indian patois with the Sylheti dialect spoken by East End Bangladeshis. That's about all the information I've found, apart from a review of Tony White's Foxy-T which quotes the following passage, supposedly written in Benglish.

Couple a well fit girl make straight over where Shabbaz and Ranky is wait at the bar. Them two was dress up init and Zafar find him cant take him eye off them behind and how them G-strings show through them white trousers. Them G-string is disappear right up there arse. Easy now Zafar. Shit man them two girl was lean over and say something in him spar ear and touch them arm and laugh init but Zafar just watch them behind like he never seen a girl before... Him no figure how some fit woman like Foxy-T aint make the most of herself is it and just wear them trackie bottom and polo shirt.
Not much Bangla there, innit? If anyone out there has any more information, do let me know.

July 25, 2005

Wodehouse Babu

Baboo Jabberjee, BA, was a character created by the English humorist F. Anstey for Punch, an Indian law-student in England who has learnt his English from books and speaks in absurdly inflated phrases. (He describes himself as 'saturated to the skin of his teeth in best English masterpieces of immaculate and moderately good prose extracts'). Anstey's Punch sketches were compiled into a book in 1897 and the character also featured in a sequel, A Bayard from Bengal, published in 1902. I've read both the Jabberjee books: they're politically incorrect, of course, but also quite funny, with devastating parodies of Babu English. Apparently, they had a great influence on P. G. Wodehouse's style: I've just discovered this extract from Richard Usborne's Plum Sauce at the Random House site, which shows how Jabberjee's words are sometimes repeated verbatim by Bertie Wooster, 'if perhaps with faint quotation marks in his voice'.
Jabberjee writes: 'As poet Burns remarks with great truthfulness, "Rank is but a penny stamp, and a Man is a man and all that."' This is a pleasant skid on the banana skin of education. Bertie and Jeeves, you remember, get tangled up in this same quotation at a moment of great crisis.

Rem acu tetigisti, non possumus, surgit amari aliquid, ultra vires, mens sana in corpore sano, amende honorable - these are gobbets of education that Jabberjee uses and Jeeves takes over. And (this is sad) we find that it was Jabberjee, and not Bertie, who first made that excellent Shakespeare emendation, only conceivable through the ears, only translatable through the eyes. Jabberjee writes: 'Jessamina inherits, in Hamlet's immortal phraseology, "an eye like Ma's to threaten and command".'
Journalists like David Gardner have claimed to find echoes of P. G. Wodehouse in Indian English, but it seems more likely that the reverse is true: Wodehouse's style owes a debt to Babu bombast.

July 23, 2005

A Posteriori - II

Nitin Karani's pointed out that an earlier post seems to be missing - I must have deleted it while I was clearing out some unused drafts. Here's an excerpt I found in my notes:
Tariq Rahman, speculating about Akbar’s proficiency in Indian dialects in Language, Ideology and Power, notes that the great Mughal used a Hindustani obscenity on at least one occasion. On Abul Fazl’s testimony, when Akbar was about to kill Adham Khan he exclaimed ‘ay gandu!’ before punching the traitor in the face. (The relevant line from Abul Fazl reads Hazrat ba zaban Hindustani farmudand ke ai kandu, or in translation, ‘My sire said in the Hindustani tongue, O catamite!’)

July 20, 2005

Mera Song Bhi Sexy

Bollywood's Hall of Shame should have a room reserved for all the veteran Urdu poets who have attempted songs in Hinglish. Your average Bollywood hack can write songs like 'Meri pant bhi sexy' and get away with it, but mixing English with literary Urdu is like pouring Coke on caviar (not to mention that it's downright embarrassing when a Javed Akhtar or a Gulzar tries to get jiggy). You can't but cringe when someone like Majrooh Sultanpuri writes songs for 'youngsters' with lyrics like this:
Main ek disco
Tu ek disco
Duniya hai ek disco
Disco 82! Disco 82!

(I am a disco
You are a disco
The world is a disco
Disco 82! Disco 82!)
Have Hinglish lyrics evolved since 1982, when Majrooh wrote these immortal words? This article in the Indian Express claims they have, and lists some contemporary examples to prove that Hinglish songs these days are 'less corny and more direct'. I'm not convinced: Javed Akhtar's 'It's the time to disco/ Kaun milega kisko' might pass, but 'Burn the dancefloor, O baliye' is the most awkward mix of languages I've heard in a long time.

July 19, 2005

Feeling Tinglish

Joie De Vivre asks: 'So much babada bibada over this thing called Hinglish... how come no one is mentioning Tinglish?'

July 16, 2005

Righta? Wronga?

One of the wonderful things about English as it is spoken in south India is the way it acquires an alien music. I once asked a stranger in the street for directions and was told to keep going straiiiighta. It was the most remarkable pronunciation of the word I’d ever heard: the tongue curled back on the t to stretch the diphthong as far as it would go and then moved forward swiftly to tap on the palate. I could tell that it would be a long journey, there would be a bend in the road at some point, but it would curve back eventually and I was to stop right there. Not too abruptly: that last t was softened with a half-vowel, after all.

There’s something about closing a word with a hard consonant that irks the Tamil speaker, so the inflections of his own language are applied to English loanwords: in Chennai, it's quite correctu to say leftu, rightu, and straightu. This linguistic tic is so common, it's become a standard feature in spoofs of South Indian English. So you have advertising slogans that claim 'Eastu, Westu, Northu, Southu, Vasthu bestu', and joke translations from the Tamil that read like this:

Moonu broughtu
tied it on the cotu
cloudu broughtu
put it on the bedu
(Sathya Sankaran, Corrupted Mind, June 30, 2005)
Usage of this kind is highly informal, of course, so there's no standard way of rendering the half-vowel. One person may write tightu, another tighta. Tight-aa? on the other hand, is how you might ask a friend if he's had too much to drink: the aa tag is a separate device altogether that conveys emphasis or interrogation. (A Tamil De Niro, if such a thing existed, would stand in front of the mirror and say 'You're talking to who? I-aa?', to which the reflection would doubtless reply 'Amaa! You-e!'). I'm sure a native speaker could point out many more variations and uses of the vowel tag: this blog goes so far as to suggest, tongue in cheek, that you can get by in Chennai without any Tamil, 'all you need to survive is to put an "A" after an English word'.

example: Yogu sits in Chennai auto.

Yogu: Po!
Rajnikant Autowala: Aiyyo!!! Po whereA!?!?!
Yogu: Amma!!! Po Lefta...then Righta!!!
Rajnikant Autowala: Aha...OK ma...understanda.

Destination Reacheda.

Rajnikant Autowala: Pathu ruppes saar...
Yogu: Pathu rupees ma!?!?! Tambee!!! Vermina!!! Mongrela!!! Appa Kundee!!! Chenee rida BIG fareA!?!?! shiva shiva...
Rajnikant Autowala: Sunday ma! Shiva temble yextra farea!!!
(Yogustus Caesar, GetAFix, 17 Oct, 2004)
Chico Marx in a mundu? Well, not quite. Unlike the Marx Brothers' mock-Italian, this brand of Instant Tamlish is used even when no parody is intended. You'll find it in internet forums frequented by Tamilians, where people tend to write as they speak. Here, the vowel tags merely reproduce the inflections of the spoken language. Some random examples from the TFM and Sysindia forums:

Romba correctu!

Original-a illa duplicate-aa?

Iyya naga sonna sonathu than correctu mathavanga yellam corruptu.

Anyway, ippa noveloda plot tighta irukku.

It sounds like a combo of maalkouns + chandrakouns, correctaa ?

Telugu films are stepsu, dancu & fightu. That's all.
Yes, that's about it. I'm going to watch TV now, see if I can catch Righta? Wronga? on the Tamil channel.

July 15, 2005

A Tikkus to the Beskop

Jamyang Norbu, author of The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes has a five-part essay in the Times of Tibet which attempts to refute propaganda myths about the Chinese 'modernization' of the Tibetan language. In response to the claim that the language lacked a scientific vocabulary prior to Chinese intervention, Norbu methodically lists every neologism adopted in the early 20th century, demonstrating that the Tibetans had names for modern inventions like electricity, radio, photography and the airplane long before the occupation of their homeland. In the process, he creates an unusual portrait of a society and a language adapting to modern times.

It's a long essay with many interesting historical asides, so I won't try to summarize it here. However, one of the strands in Norbu's argument is worth mentioning on this blog, because it deals with hybridity. The Tibet he portrays is neither a fairy-tale Shangri La nor the insular, monk-ridden society depicted in Chinese propaganda: though geographically isolated, the country had many contacts with the outer world through Muslim mercantile communities and encounters with Anglo-Indian society. Not surprisingly, the Tibetan language had acquired many loanwords from English and Hindustani. Tibetans called the telegraph tar from the Hindi for wire, a motorcar was a mota or gari, from gaadi, flashlights were known as bijili after the Hindi word for electricity, and the postal service was called dak. Borrowed words like these were in common use throughout the country, while in Lhasa you could smoke a shik-ray (cigarette), chew gig-chiri (chewing gum), or buy a tikkus (ticket) to the beskop (bioscope, cinema) to watch the movies of Charlie Chumping. (Hollywood movies and Western-style dancing were popular among the elite - we're informed in an aside that the foxtrot had been introduced to Lhasa, and the 'Palais Glide' and 'Boomps-a-Daisy' too had their moments in the Holy City).

With all these new products flowing into Tibet, such commercial terms as 'dozen' (Tib. darzen), as well as the concept of commercial brand names, which Tibetans termed lemba from the English 'number', entered the popular vocabulary. So in cigarettes you had amo-lemba or Camel brand and cheaper Indian brands, tadri lemba , Battle Axe brand, and sashu lemba, Lantern brand. Fabrics, sewing thread, soap etc, also came in a variety of brand names...

The term lemba was also used to designate certain famous ladies, especially amongst the Lhasa demimonde. Most well known, in this context, were three female vocalists of the nangma musical ensembles of Lhasa : shimi lemba (cat brand), porok lemba (crow brand) and naptu lemba (snot brand). Another lady of easy virtue who is said to have worn Western style shoes ( jurta, from the Hindi juta) instead of the traditional Tibetan boot lham, was called jurta lemba. One lemba lady (who shall remain nameless) moved to Darjeeling in the forties and, as Miss Lily, is said to have contributed to the War effort by entertaining American GIs on leave in that hill resort.
Governments everywhere tend to frown upon these illicit encounters between languages. The Chinese went further: under Communist occupation, the Tibetan language was 'modernized' by the creation of a new politically correct vocabulary which discarded foreign loanwords and commonly used colloquialisms in favour of loan-translations from the Chinese coined by collaborators and anonymous apparatchiks. (Some striking parallels here to the official Sanskritized Hindi propagated by the Indian government around the same time). Later during the Cultural Revolution, the Tibetan language itself came under attack and its teaching was banned in many parts of the country. Norbu notes that 'Tibetans in Tibet now use a large percentage of Chinese terms in their everyday speech, in much the same way that citizens of former Soviet satellite states were compelled to use Russian'. The home language now differs greatly from the variety used in exile: Tibetans in India continue to adopt words like the 'decidedly peculiar' barabaji (lunch), derived from the Hindi for 'twelve o'clock'.

July 14, 2005

Visible Chaddi Line

ABCD normally stands for American Born Confused Desi, but this month's Time Out Mumbai provides an alternative Marathi expansion of the acronym.
Acronym used by senior Maharashtrian women to describe women in low-slung jeans: Aga Bai Chaddi Diste. Example: I'm sure she's the one who plays that loud disco-shisko when I'm doing pooja in the morning. She's the only ABCD in the society.

July 13, 2005

Slang Sighting: One-Tharah Types

Bangalore slang, mixing Kannada and English. One tharah types are one of a kind, eccentric, idiosyncratic, 'like that only'.

Cosmopolitan people, you think? Yeah, they're a mixed bag. Different, one-tharah types. Not so hard-and-fast. A chill crowd, like. Doing ultra-cool things chumma, simply, for no reason other than to do it. (Lavanya Sankaran, The Red Carpet)
Sankaran has a good ear for Bangalore talk, and as she mentions in this interview, her publishers have been 'gracious enough to let her chumma and one-tharah be without qualifiers'. You can read an excerpt from the book here.

July 12, 2005

Coarse jocosity catches the crowd

Manmohan Singh, distinguished economist, politician, Prime Minister... and now, stand-up comedian?
Dr Singh, who received an honorary doctorate from his alma mater Oxford University, had an audience of professors and students in splits when he said that Indians had experimented with the Queen's English, which is now 'just another Indian language'.

The choice of prepositions may not always be the Queen's language and they might occasionally split the infinitive and drop an article here and add an extra one there, the Prime Minister said, deliberately pronouncing 'split' as 'saplit'.

(The Tribune, 9 July, 2005)

Kidnap Aunties and other kin

'Kidnap Aunty' is what the Indian media is calling a conspirator in the Vaibhav Agarwal ransom case. "The mess-up", comments Bachi Karkaria, "endorses my theory that 'Aunty' suffers from a permanent bad-hair day, unlike the always coiffed 'Aunt'."
Only colonial hangovers such as the Parsis and some Christian communities have 'Aunts'; all the rest only have 'Aunties'. But it's not that simple. Only the old-money Dadysetts or DaCunhas had an 'Aunt Lily'. In the wealth-tax bracket below, she became 'Aunty Lily'. However, on the other side of the Privilege Line, the relationship also switches places and gets downsized as 'Lily Aunty'...This prefix-suffix divide is like caste and monsoon rivers, absolute and non-crossable. (Bachi Karkaria, Never, ever call me Aunty again, Sunday Times of India, July 10, 2005)
The article isn't online yet, but meanwhile here's a link to Bachi's column.

July 11, 2005

Thulp it all I say!

The ever excellent Double-Tongued Word Wrester examines thulp, a slang word that must be part of every IIT-M guy's vocabulary. I've heard it used most often to describe the act of consuming vast quantities of food: for some reason I always associate it with eating thair sadam with the hands. Need I add that this usage is almost exclusively South Indian?
Thalpu : Eat rather, Gobble. eg. 'Thalp it all I say !' is famous when you go to free Luncheon in a star hotel. (Colloquial Kannada)

July 07, 2005

Wheatish Girl Seeks Alliance

Vishy's Indian English Dictionary covers the vocabulary of Indian matrimonial advertisements - including a word that is usually reserved for household pets.
Not used in the 'When were dogs domesticated?' sense, domesticated is a term applied in particular to prospective brides that indicates a good sense for maintaining a home and cooking good food for her prospective husband.
It's a brief note, hardly exhaustive (no 'innocent divorcees', no 'cosmopolitans', no 'clean-shaven Khatri boys'), but still worth a read.

July 06, 2005

Surreal Moments in Parliamentary History

Shri S.C. Malhotra, Chief Parliamentary Reporter, and Shri P. Kulasekharan, Supervisory Sr. Parliamentary Reporter, have unenviable jobs: according to the Lok Sabha website, they are 'officers responsible for supply of the information for Wit and Humour, Poetry and Couplets'. They take their work seriously, trawling through transcripts of parliamentary proceedings for the anecdotes compiled on the site.


During the question hour on 16.12.2004, on the subject of filling up of top posts in public sector undertakings, hon. Member Shri Gurudas Dasgupta put a supplementary to the hon. Minister of Heavy Industries, Shri Sontosh Mohan Dev as follows:

"Taste of the pudding is in the eating. There is always a gap between promise and performance. I hope it will not be so in this case…"

To this, Shri Sontosh Mohan Dev quipped:

"Sir, I am a diabetic patient. I cannot eat pudding!", and the whole House burst into laughter.
I guess you had to be there. Quite wisely, our parliamentarians seem to prefer Poetry & Couplets over Wit & Humour, quoting Sanskrit shlokas, Urdu shairi and Hindi poetry. The rare instances in which English verse is cited are worth noting. Let the record show that on 26th April, 2001, the Hon. Member of Parliament Shri Anadi Sahu recited the following rhyme during a debate on farmers' problems in the Sixth Session of the Thirteenth Lok Sabha.

..Old McDonald had a farm
Yeah, Yeah, ho
A quack, quack here
A quack, quack there
A quach, quack everywhere

Old McDonald had a farm
Yeah, Yeah, ho
A mow, mow here
A mow, mow there
A mow, mow everywhere

July 05, 2005

Junoon Tamil

The variety of Tamil spoken on dubbed television shows, named after the serial Junoon which used to air on Doordarshan's Metro channel. Typically, the original Hindi dialogue is translated by hacks who tend to translate idioms literally. The exigencies of dubbing impose awkward constructions, resulting in a language which bears little resemblance to colloquial Tamil. The term also seems to be used loosely to describe any artificial Tamil, whether it's advertising copy translated from another language, the Tamil songs of North Indian singers like Udit Narayan and Sukhvinder Singh, or the speech of those who 'think in Hindi or English and speak in Tamil'.

As teenagers, our lives had revolved around Doordarshan. This was an institution that had even spawned an atrocious new version of Tamil that was dubbed 'Junoon Tamil;' it went on to become the biggest joke in the city in the mid-nineties. It so happened that the serial Junoon was dubbed in Tamil. Both the translation -- it was literal, with no regard for grammar or local idioms -- and the pronunciation were atrocious. (Hemanth Kumar, Beware: Friendly Auto Driver Ahead, rediff.com)
Then there's the Hindi of dubbed American sitcoms and children's programmes, which is quite unlike spoken Hindi, or even the anglicized Hindi of magazines like Stardust (their Hindi edition was famous for translated idioms like 'billi tokri se nikal chuki hai'). The language here is more like an artificially constructed Hinglish in which all the troublesome English words are left untranslated. Well, for instance, is one of those words for which there is no exact Hindi equivalent, so it's left untouched. Pronounced vail in dubbese, it pops up in every second line. 'Vail, main aa gaya', says Dad as he enters the room. 'Vail, tum phir laut sakte ho' replies Mom. Canned laughter.

June 27, 2005


This is my secret ambition: I want to write photo-stories for Crime & Detective magazine.

(This panel is from a story in the July issue called 'Being Wife of a Gigolo'. The wanton seductress goes on to seal his heart with her burning lips, so that the fish of desire sleeping inside his body becomes alive and fluttering and starts dancing in frenzy. He jumps into the battlefield of passion. She gives him full 100 marks.)

June 23, 2005


An Indian English contraction of the idiom 'to learn by heart' used as a verb, e.g. ‘Miss told us to by-heart the lesson by tomorrow’. If you know something by heart, you understand and remember it perfectly. 'By-hearting', on the other hand, implies learning by rote. It's what you do when you when you’ve bunked classes all year and exams are coming up. It’s cramming, it’s memorizing entire chapters of a textbook, it’s reciting something again and again till it's wired into your brain.

At Alfonsa college I by hearted my way across the university examinations. At St. Thomas I gobbled up Harold Lasky, Ricardo, Keynes, Malthus and Adam Smith and regurgitated them onto the answer sheets. (Alex Paikada, Gitanjaly Express)

I think, she will do well at Oratorical competitions, her answers were at best by-hearted well, it seemed like a vomit out of rote memory. (Anand Viswanathan, The Gemini Home Page, May 27, 2005)
The following citation, I think, demonstrates best the great semantic divide between 'learning by heart' and 'by-hearting'. (It also says a great deal about the Indian education system).

In the course of two days, we got the rhyme by-hearted. We were able to recite it with all its pauses. Then we were told its meaning. (Posted by redivider to Middle Age Blooz, June 8, 2005)
That's how you're taught nursery rhymes in India. In fact, that's how you're taught most things: Mother Goose, Wordsworth, the Geeta, theories of supply and demand, the names of state capitals, they're all meant to be 'by-hearted' and repeated as mindless incantations to the goddess of knowledge.

'By-heart' is usually restricted to the register of education, so it can seem comically inappropriate when used in a general context. It's Babu English in a way, a product of the Macaulayan system, and certainly not as cool as the slangier 'mugging' or 'rattofying'. You're not going to gain any street cred if you insist that 'DJing is not by-hearting tunes and playing them' (DJ Ritesh quoted in the Times of India, Ahmedabad, 22 April 2000). Using the word in poetry is also probably a bad idea.
Stones lost in the flow and falsehood of history;
stones that have by hearted the echoes of those
who thirsted to renew the land

(O N V Kurup, Stones, indianpoetry.org)

June 20, 2005

Speshul Uppi Mix

The Dick & Garlick Award for the Most Innovative Use of Multiple Languages in a Single Line goes to lyricist Kaviraj for this song from the Upendra movie Omkara:
Goli maro ee society-ge
Goli maro rowdyism-ige
Goli maro duniya-ge
Take a closer look at that second line, goli maro rowdyism-ige. That's three words, three languages: Kannada, Hindi slang and Babu English living together in perfect harmony, side by side on a Casio keyboard.

(Found via the NITK Numbskulls page, where this bizarre mix of languages is dubbed Kan-hin-glish. You can listen to the song here.)

June 19, 2005

Area ka Hero

Double-Tongued Word Wrester has a piece on the Nigerian term for a street thug, area boy. Reminds me of our very own area ke heroes.

June 18, 2005

An egg-plant by any other name

Life is hard in Mumbai's underworld, what with all those encounter killings and all. So when insult is added to injury, even the toughest gangster may throw up his hands.
Dreaded gangster Anil Parab ‘Vangya’ filed an application in court stating that he should be strictly called by name, without the ‘demeaning’ suffix, Vangya. (In Marathi, vangya means a brinjal). Said Parab’s lawyer Vivek Sudade. “Since Parab is a diabetic and has high blood pressure, calling him Vangya can be injurious to his health, as he gets extremely upset.”(Mid-Day, June 18, 2005)
On July 15, the court passed an order prohibiting the use of Parab's slang name: I'm sure it was greeted with sniggers from all the Chiknas, Fawdas and Haddis in the courtroom. Perhaps the sessions judge wasn't aware of the Kashmiri story about the persistence of nicknames:

A man named Wa'sdev had a mulberry tree growing in his courtyard and therefore, he was called Wa'sdev Tul (mulberry). He, in order to get rid of his nick-name, cut down the tree. But a mund (trunk) remained and people began to call him Wa'sdev Mund. He then removed the trunk of the tree but by its removal a khud (depression) was caused and henceforth people called him Wa'sdev Khud. He then filled up the depression and the ground became teng (a little elevated) and he began to be called Wa'sdev Teng. Thus exasperated, he left any further attempt to remove the cause of his nick-name and it continued to be Teng which is now attached to the names of his descendants.

June 16, 2005

The Case of the Birmingham Balti

The BBC and the Oxford English Dictionary are asking logophiles to help rewrite the 'greatest book in the English Language'. Armchair word-detectives have been invited by the BBC Wordhunt to find proof of the origin of fifty mysterious words. Balti and tikka masala are both on the list: if you feel like disputing the claim that these items were concocted in some Bangladeshi restaurant in Birmingham, send in your evidence to the BBC and it might feature in a forthcoming television series.

Personally, I think the British are welcome to their dubious versions of Mughlai and their even more dubious terminology. What more can you say for the people who cooked up curry as a catch-all term for Indian cuisine?

June 13, 2005

Slang Sighting: Pakdu

The Maharashtra government has framed new rules for dance bars in the city which prohibit the serving of alcohol. Today's Mid-Day reports that the state's restrictions have given birth to a new kind of pick-up joint.
With thousands of bargirls desperate for survival, the state could see a huge boom in sleazy pick-up joints, known as pakdu (silent) bars.. They are dimly-lit places with blaring music, where waitresses, usually between 18 and 30 years old, serve customers food and alcohol. But there's more to them than meets the eye, as customers negotiate with the girls for 'favours'. (Mid-Day, June 13, 2005)
I'm not sure why pakdu has been glossed as 'silent' here. I assume it's from pakadna, to catch, implying that the girl is bait, or more likely, that you can 'catch' her unlike the touch-me-not performing girls ('items' in Mumbai parlance).
'Yahan sab milega. Pakdu ke saath full time ke liye room, nahin to item ke saath disco mein dance bhi kar sakte hain,' said the bar's valet attendant.
I'm told by them as knows that 'shorttime' is the Mumbai prostitute's slang for a quickie, which explains the 'short' favours mentioned later in the piece.

June 09, 2005

भारतीय गालियाँ अंग्रेज़ी शब्दकोष में

is Sify's blunt headline for the Collins story.

Burgers & Bun Kababs

The Bezels of Wisdom has an interesting post on the hybrid Urdu-English that is becoming popular in Pakistan. Of course, Urdish or Engdu, or whatever you choose to call it has much in common with Hinglish, but the slang words are uniquely Pakistani.
Some English words have totally localised meanings. Take 'burger' for example. A TV show of the 80s assumed that a burger was the apogee of western sophistication. Today a 'burger' refers to any westernised Pakistani (like me ?) in a derisory but humourous manner. My local radio channel has a show where anyone using an English word becomes a Burger right away.
Check out this forum for an entertaining discussion on the essential differences between abcds, burgers, mummy-daddies, tommies and other breeds. Wannabe burgers are sometimes called bun kababs after the cheap, street version of the burger. The finer nuances of class in Karachi feature in this story from Chowk:
At a party, after two people were introduced:

First: I live in Defence. Where do you live?

Second: I live in Gulistan-e-Jauhar.

First: What? Don't mind but that's a terrible place and you look the elite, you know, burger-sort.

Second: I used to live in Defence when I was young.

First: Oh, that's why!

The second one thinks, 'So, does the shifting turn the burger into a bun kebab?'

(Ayesha Hoda Ahmad, Illiteracy After Education - Part I)

June 08, 2005

Everything's changa for uncle-ji and auntie-ji

Yes, it's time to balle balle all the way from Amritsar to LA - a whole new bunch of Indian words like filmi, desi and chuddie have entered the English language, via the Collins English Dictionary. Yahoo India News reports that the latest edition of Collins, to be published Thursday, is 'full of unusual and unexpected Indian words, thanks to popular Asian culture'.

Many of the new words have a distinct Punjabi flavour - changa (fine) is on the list, and uncle-ji and auntie-ji made it past the gora (white) bouncers as well. (I wonder if Collins provides Punju definitions for Punju words - if they did, the entry for changa would read 'A-1, Tip-Top, Best Quality, Hit-o-Hit'). Other Indian words appearing in the dictionary include badmash, kutta (dog), kutti (bitch), haramzada and haramzadi (described as bastards or obnoxious/despicable). Looks like those guys at Collins have been watching way too many Dharmendra movies.

Bollywood Flashback

Just when did ‘Bollywood’ become a synonym for the Hindi film industry? The word entered common parlance sometime in the 90s, though of course it was in use earlier than that. The standard explanation of the word's origins attributes its creation to an apocryphal film journalist who is said to have coined the term in the late 70s: many people assume this refers to Shobha De, then editor of Stardust, but I don't think she's ever staked her claim to the invention of Bollywood. Among those who have claimed this dubious achievement are the producer (and frequent columnist) Amit Khanna, and an erstwhile Cine Blitz journalist, Bevinda Collaco.
Amit Khanna, who claims to have coined the word in one of his columns way back in the late seventies, says it arose from a certain situation. The new wave or parallel cinema was emerging those days and it would have been wrong to group this kind of cinema with the prevalent popular cinema which the Bombay film industry represented... Hence Bollywood emerged as a term to describe popular cinema. (Nandita Puri, 'Is Bollywood an imitation of Hollywood?', Mid-Day, Nov 8, 2002)

I was given a studio beat to do. I was not happy with the name of the column Studio Roundup and thought of `Flipping around Follywood', but it sounded too harsh. I settled for `On the Bollywood Beat' instead... While I worked at Cine Blitz in 1978, 79 and 80, I used the word prolifically, but I never thought it would get official international usage. Actually I don't know whether to laugh or to cry when I see my word become common usage. (Bevinda Collaco quoted in 'On the Bollywood Beat', The Hindu, Mar 7, 2004)
Turns out you don't need to believe either claim, because the Oxford English Dictionary, which included an entry for ‘Bollywood’ for the first time in 2001, provides an earlier citation:
Soon after she had given up the role of Rani Maqbet..she left Ravi Kumar to go to Dhartiraj. My revelation she had done that was the greatest sensation ever to come out of Bollywood. (H.R.F. Keating, Filmi, Filmi, Inspector Ghote, 1976)
So did Keating coin the word? I doubt it. He wrote many of the Inspector Ghote mysteries before he'd ever visited India: lacking first-hand experience, he studied newspapers and magazines to construct the background of his stories. So it seems more likely that he came across the word in print somewhere.

Perhaps it's worth mentioning here that 'Tollywood', as a name for the Calcutta film industry was in circulation long before anyone had ever heard of Bollywood. The term is a portmanteau, Hollywood and Tollygunge (the area in Calcutta where many film studios were located) packed up into one word. JS magazine used it liberally in the late 60s and early 70s, so it isn’t unlikely that someone thought up ‘Bollywood’ as a variation on the joke about the same time.

I checked on Google to see if anyone else had come up with this theory, and discovered this article by Madhava Prasad in Seminar, which voices the suspicion ‘that it was the trendy and smart young JS journalists who first adopted this way of slotting Hindi cinema into their otherwise largely Eurocentric cultural world’. Wade through the petulant jargon of the piece, and you’ll find this passage which traces an unlikely origin for Tollywood:
In 1932, Wilford E. Deming, an American engineer who claims that ‘under my supervision was produced India’s first sound and talking picture’, writing in American Cinematographer (12.11, March 1932), mentions a telegram he received as he was leaving India after his assignment: Tollywood sends best wishes happy new year to Lubill film doing wonderfully records broken. In explanation, he adds, ‘In passing it might be explained that our Calcutta studio was located in the suburb of Tollygunge… Tolly being a proper name and Gunge meaning locality. After studying the advantages of Hollygunge we decided on Tollywood. There being two studios at present in that locality, and several more projected, the name seems appropriate.
Deming was a sound technician who worked on the earliest song-and-dance movies made in India, including the first talkie, Alam Ara, so I guess we should conclude our archaeological dig right here... till the time someone turns up evidence of Phalke in Phollywood.

June 03, 2005

A Posteriori

To the Google user who landed up here searching for a definition of 'gandu': I'm sorry you didn't find what you were looking for, but allow me to make amends. This is what my Hindi dictionary (Brihat Hindi Kosh, Gyan Mandal) has to offer:
Gandu, adj. One who is addicted to being sodomized (the original reads 'jise gudabhanjan karane ki lat ho'); weak-hearted; good-for-nothing; cowardly.
By the way, in your search did you come across this passage from Richard Burton's translation of the Arabian Nights?
Yet the Hindus, I repeat, hold pederasty in abhorrence and are as much scandalized by being called Gand-mara (anus-beater) or Gandu (anuser) as Englishmen would be.
Anuser? Tell me that's not a real word.

Chapel Road English

Eunice De’Souza provides an example of mack talk (Chapel Road is located in the Mumbai suburb of Bandra):

We speak a khichdi English. Just how khichdish it can get can be seen in this example which a friend’s brother gave me of what he called Chapel Road English. It’s a line expressing admiration for a young woman, Peter’s sister. The first word is an abbreviation of a Marathi obscenity, the rest recognizable: Che bugger! Pitu sas asli chick, men! (Eunice De’Souza, English Pedigree, Mumbai Mirror, June 2, 2005)

June 01, 2005

Vitamin M

An Indian English colloquialism in which the M stands for money. It can be used as a nudge-nudge-hint-hint euphemism for bribes and speed money, or to cynically acknowledge the factor that makes the world go round. A phrase for greasy babus and elderly Uncles.
Every political leader needs Vitamin M (money) to run a party. If they refuse bribes, where will they raise party funds from! said a police inspector from North Mumbai. (Mid-Day, Dec 27, 2003)
'Sponsorship is very crucial to any sport. It is the very soul,' he emphasised. With the sponsors comes the all important vitamin M, making the sport more commercial to attract more youngsters. (The Hindu, April 15, 2000)
Finally, for practicing pediatrician, aim should be to achieve work satisfaction, peer acceptance, community respect, healthy life and happy family. It may sound philosophical but it is futile to be after 'vitamin M' without achieving other goals. After all we know that storable vitamins are toxic and this is one of them. (Indian Pediatrics, 2005)
Public healthcare needs dose of Vitamin 'M' (Headline in the Times of India, Sep 26, 2001)
As everything is eventually an economic fallout, changing attitudes of the young is a result of that. "We are all craving too much for Vitamin M," says a bright, cool kid. `M'? Money of course! (The Hindu, Jan 6, 2003)

Slang Sighting: Mamme

Beware of the Blog (May 25, 2005) finds a reason to sit through 'Bride and Prejudice':
The film's sole claim to fame is in affording mainstream exposure to a word that has long languished in the realm of domestic slang, when Nadira Babbar admonishes Lakhi about her revealing outfit saying 'We want Balraj to look into Jaya's eyes not your mammes'.

Bonjour maa

'Bonjour maa' is a hybrid French-Tamil expression that translates as 'Good day, dear lady'. It is 'one of the most frequently heard greetings in Pondichery' and also the title of a linguistic study by Leena Kelkar-Stephan that describes the results of the encounter between French and Tamil in the erstwhile colony.

May 31, 2005

You are my chicken fry

I was looking through a list of referring sites when I realized that most of the people who've viewed this blog were searching on Google for pesarattu recipes, or the best way to make lentil soup, or a nice Gujarati vegetarian dish with papdi on top... in short, it's all those references to Indian food that brought them here. Well, if that's what it's going to take to get some hits..

You are my chicken fry
You are my fish fry
Kabhi na kehna kudiye bye bye bye

You are my samosa
You are my masala dosa
Main na kahungi mundiya bye bye bye

Sarson ka tu saag hai
Main makke ki roti
Jo bhi tujhko dekhe
Ho jaye vo goti

You are my chocolate
You are my cut-a-let
Main na kahungi mundiya bye bye bye

You are my chicken fry
You are my fish fry
Kabhi na kehna kudiye bye bye bye

Garma garam tandoori tu hai
Main to ankhen sekoon
Munh mein paani aa jaata hai
Jab main tujhko dekhoon

You are my rossogolla
You are my rasmalai
Kabhi na kehna kudiye bye bye bye

You are my chicken fry
You are my fish fry
Kabhi na kehna kudiye bye bye bye
The knowledgeable among you will have identified this nonsense as the lyrics of a classic Hinglish song by the great Bappi Lahiri. The rest of you can stay back after class to search the ITRANS Song Book for gems like 'My heart is beating, keeps on repeating' and 'What is your style number?'

Mumbai Boli

Mumbai's new tabloid, the Mumbai Mirror, provides updates on current city slang. This is from today's issue (May 31, 2005):
Matlab ki ulti kar (get to the point): Ok, now that you have done with the polite chit-chat, matlab ki ulti kar.

May 23, 2005

Vern, Vernie, Vernac

'Vernac' is Bombay college lingo for a student schooled in an Indian regional language, a slang abbreviation of the word ‘vernacular’, which my dictionary defines as the native language or dialect of a country (the word’s roots lie in the Latin word for a home-born slave, verna). In the administrative jargon of the Raj, all modern Indian languages were classified as vernaculars to distinguish them from the language of the rulers. Schools that imparted education in Indian languages were termed ‘vernacular medium’; an awkward, antiquated phrase that still lives on in Indian officialese, despite the fact that it’s not quite politically correct.

As slang, vernac perpetuates this colonial prejudice, expressing the contempt of the English-educated for the deprived souls on the other side of the language divide. Like its North Indian equivalent, HMT (Hindi Medium Type), vernac can be used to dismiss someone as a country bumpkin, as provincial, unfashionable, or unsophisticated. Though to my ears, vernac is harsher than HMT, and there’s a sneer in the variant 'vernie' which makes it as offensive as a racial slur. The MTV India website used to run a column on campus slang that provided this cautionary note:
Verni's are looked down upon by the so called elite. It has derogatory and condescending connotations, so don't use it on that brown-eyed regional student who has joined from some Vidyapeeth. Caution: Vernee's understand the term. Beware of the revenge of the Raju ban gaya gentleman verni. He'll buy you off. (Slanguage, MTVIndia.com)
Despite its derogatory connotations, vernac is considered hip Hinglish in some circles, and is now used widely outside Bombay campuses. Stardust was probably the first magazine to use the word: back in the 90s, they labelled the starlet Mamata Kulkarni a 'vern' and frequently mocked her Maharashtrian accent.
Pity Poor Mamta Kulkarni. She has only to appear on the sets
for her co-stars to snigger behind her back… The word heard most often at these times is 'vern.' An abbreviated form of 'vernacular,' it is used to sum up Ms. Kulkarni, who never went to convent (or public) school, doesn't know Tom Cruise from a Tom Collins, and speaks English with a ghati accent… Mamta is left in no doubt about the fact that she is the odd one out in a club of insiders. (L. Khubchandani, The changing profile of the film stars, The Telegraph Magazine, April 28, 1996)
Vernac and its variants made the transition from gossip magazines to the mainstream sometime in the latter half of the 90s, when the press in general adopted a looser, more informal editorial style. The prejudices of the campus now began to surface in jarring new contexts. Vernac pops up in articles tracking the growing importance of regional markets, Hindi advertising, and the entertainment industry, all previously dismissed as downmarket by the old elitism.
That this magazine, an avowed proponent of eschewing the Vern in English-language publications should choose to feature a headline with a Hindi word.. is testimony to the movement pioneered by Prasoon Joshi, an MBA who has set the country's imagination afire with advertising incorporating street-speak. (Business Today, June 20, 2004)
You can't get more condescending than that. In contrast, the Times of India adopts a rather forced, celebratory manner, declaring 'the more vernac, the more cool'. A recent article about the boom in regional call centres was headlined 'The Vernacs Win!' (Times of India, May 17, 2005)

I'll close this note with a few citations. The first couple are from authors reproducing the casual, slangy Bombay style.
God wasn't at all what I'd expected him to be. He spoke with a vernac accent and smoked smelly beedies. (Shobha De, Sultry Days, 1994)
They had argued and talked and laughed about what to call their parts, she hated lund and chut, how vernac and crude and vulgar she said.. (Vikram Chandra, Love and Longing in Bombay, 1997)
By the 1970s mythological movies were seen as downmarket and vernac, suitable only for films made in other ethnic Indian languages. (Vernac is short for vernacular. It is a common Indian English word for a person of an ethnic Indian background without much education, English or sophistication who speaks only a local ‘vernacular’ language. The equivalent of a country bumpkin or backwoods bozo.) (Ashok Banker, Bollywood, 2001)
Speaking in Indian languages in school was frowned upon by everyone and soon, unpleasant distinctions were made between the 'vernies' and the ones who were fluent in English. Snob values were inculcated early on and you generally were made to feel privileged to belong to that school. (Interview with Mahesh Dattani, GayToday.com, May 31, 2005)
Every time I visit Bombay, I find that my nieces and nephews speak only in English. One of them even told me that she doesn't like to speak Marathi, which is her mother tongue, because only 'vernies' (a cruel term for kids studying in the vernacular medium) speak desi languages. (Posted by vidaro on Jul 1, 2003 to Sulekha Expressions)
Headbangus Ganpathi Bappa Moryus: The species is predominantly male and rarely includes females.They mainly converse in colloqial dialects and have an extremely limited understanding of english. At times they have been known to target women with colloqial jibes and cause minor riots. Popularly Known as 'Vernacs' or 'Vernies'." (Cowboy From Hell blog, entry dated December 05, 2004)
More citations at the Double-Tongued Word Wrester.