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.