Indian imports and exports

by Colin McIntosh

IndiaEnglish has spread far beyond its original home. Now spoken on almost every continent, it has evolved into many varieties that are mostly mutually comprehensible, given a little knowledge of some local vocabulary and expressions. The Cambridge dictionary has an international readership, and this is reflected in many of the new additions to the dictionary. This week we look at some of those new additions from India.

We will start with the word swadeshi, which is used to mean “made and sold or used in India”:

The ministry has launched the commercial sale of swadeshi diesel with the aim of reducing oil imports.

Many of these Indian English words relate to Indian culture, but not all. Crore, for example, is a word regularly used in the media to denote the number ten million:

Here is a list of Bollywood films that earned above 200 crores in the domestic box office.

Some are words that were previously used more widely in British English, such as conveyance, for a vehicle or method of transport, and varsity:

These are the allowances for the various kinds of conveyance available.

Bangalore Varsity is to receive a new centre of excellence.

Some of these words are connected with Indian cuisine. Several ingredients and dishes are referred to by their local names in Indian English, and these are frequently seen on menus in other English-speaking countries. Brinjal (aubergine or eggplant), aloo (potatoes), and dal (lentils) are common, and chicken tikka has even been described as Britain’s national dish, ahead of fish and chips.

The concept of tiffin is well known to Indians. It refers to a small meal, especially one that you eat in the middle of the day:

In Mumbai there is a complex and efficient delivery system that regularly delivers hot lunches packed in tiffin-carriers to office workers in the city centre from their homes in the suburbs.

Some Indian English words come from the field of education. As well as varsity, batch refers to a group of students who are taught together at school, college, or university:

Unlike all my batchmates I did not go to the United States for my Master’s degree.

Those who are less academically minded may be described as backbenchers (presumably because they sit at the back of the class doing nothing). More obedient students might by-heart their lessons, meaning learn them by heart.

With many NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) living overseas, and foreign-returned Indians (those who have returned to India after living overseas), the exchange of words and expressions between India and the rest of the world is only likely to increase.

4 thoughts on “Indian imports and exports

  1. I always thought that “tiffin” referred not to the meal but to the multi-chambered, infinitely stackable tin container in which it was served.

    I’ve heard English described as a “magpie” language. Like the bird that picks up shiny trinkets for its nest, English collects memorable words for its vocabulary. I live in New York, and it’s hard to get very far in a conversation without using a uniquely precise word in Yiddish or Spanish or Chinese or Russian or French or Ga or … throw a dart at the map.

  2. Pingback: Indian imports and exports | 21st-century words

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