You may be surprised to learn that some of our more commonly used words are Hindi or Sanskrit in origin (Hindi itself is derived from Sanskrit, an ancient Indian language). The English first became involved in the subcontinent through the trading activities of the East India Company in 1600. Until India gained independence in 1947, the British influence was great and while the English language became widely spoken in India, it also worked in the other direction.
Consider the simple bungalow, which derived from bangla, the Hindi word meaning ‘of Bengal’. It means a ‘Bengali-style house’, a flimsy one-storey construction with a thatched roof.
Then of course we wash our hair with shampoo, from the Hindi word champna, meaning ‘to knead’. Jungle comes from jangal, referring to the ‘uncultivated land or bush’ which made up so much of the country.
Dinghy comes from denga meaning ‘boat’, thug from sthaga meaning ‘scoundrel’ and opal from upala meaning ‘precious stone’ – all common words that entered the language during the days of the British Raj.
Curry, chutney and kedgeree have enriched our food, dungarees and jodhpurs have clothed us and yoga has helped us relax. Even the word guru is a modern-day term from gu (darkness) and ru (light), or ‘one who leads a student from darkness to light’.
My favourite Indian word is namaste, an Indian greeting and farewell. It literally means ‘I bow to you’ and is accompanied by a slight bow made with hands pressed together. It fosters humility and courtesy and is becoming quite popular in the West.
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