Share Your Thoughts

Words and terms from around the world have been adopted into the international language, English—learned and passed on by ancient travelers, conquerors, and missionaries; like seeds dispersed, far and wide they traveled with the wind and took root in different countries.

Some of the oldest human languages (Tamil, Pali, Prakrit, Sanskrit) are rooted in present-day India. It is natural that words from these ancient tongues contributed to the English we speak today. Latin, the oldest European language alongside Greek, is said to have been much influenced by Sanskrit and has many words taken from it.

While most people are aware that India gave words like guru, karma, and nirvana to English, have a look and see if you were aware of the Indian origins of these words:

Cummerbund: the wide strip of cloth worn around the waist (by men, usually) in formal dressing is derived from “kamar baandh” in Hindi, literally meaning “tie the waist.”

Bandana: the large handkerchief worn around the head or neck takes its name from “baandhna” in Hindi, meaning “to tie.”

Jodhpurs: are trousers worn for horse-riding. They are loose over the knees and tighter below. The word is taken from the trousers that the royal family of Jodhpur city in the Indian state of Rajasthan wore while playing polo (a game that originated in India as well).

Dungarees: Apart from the trousers with the extra piece of cloth over the chest, dungarees are also clothes made of a thick, strong cloth like denim. The word is derived from “dungri,” which in Hindi specified a cheap, coarse type of cloth.

Bangle: comes from the Hindi word “bangli” and is used to mean a bracelet or ring worn loose around the wrist.

Catamaran: This boat was originally called “kattumaram” in Tamil which means “tie a tree” since the boat was built of wood tied together.

Cashmere: This fabric or wool is named after Kashmir where the goats from whose fur this material is made are found in plenty.

Calico: This is another material that originated in India and was exported from Calicut (today Kozhikode) in Kerala.

Pyjamas (or pajamas): are loose, often cotton, light pants used to sleep in. The name comes from the Hindi “paijama” where “pai” means “leg” and “jama,” a “garment.”

Mantra: is a word or string of words that, when chanted, are said to have a special spiritual, almost magical, significance in Hinduism and Buddhism. In Sanskrit, “manas” means “mind” and “trai” means “to free from” so that mantra literally means “to free from the mind.”

Juggernaut: This word is built rather indirectly from “Jagannath,” Lord Vishnu’s name meaning “Lord of the World.” During the famous rath yatras (chariot festival) in Orissa, where the idol of Lord Vishnu was taken on a procession in a big chariot, people were sometimes killed under the wheels of the chariot due to the huge crowds that participated in the procession. From here comes “juggernaut” whose meaning is defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary as “a massive inexorable force, campaign, movement, or object that crushes whatever is in its path.”

Pundit: A pundit is a learned man, an expert. The word is derived from the Sanskrit “pandita” meaning “learned.” This word is sometimes used synonymously with “guru” as in “He’s an economics pundit (or guru).”

Bungalow: is an independent single-story house, often with a bit of garden. The original word has its roots in the Hindi “bangla” or Gujarati “banglo.”

Verandah: The verandah is the open portico or the first room in a house and is derived from the Hindi word, “baraamda.” Verandahs are a common part of traditional as well as modern Indian homes.

Gymkhana: meaning a meet for sports contests, especially automobiles, today is believed to have originated in 19th-century India from the Hindi “gendkhana” which was a ball-playing area.

Jungle: This word that we are so used to is taken directly from the Hindi word “jangal” for a forest or woods.

Loot: is the Hindi word for spoils, or booty (stolen money/valuables). The verb “to loot” means to plunder.

Cot: This everyday word comes from the Hindi “khaat” meaning “bedstead.”

Curry: a gravy-based dish that is eaten with the main staple (rice or roti) and is an integral part of Indian cuisine. The word is believed to have originated from the Tamil “kari.”

Chutney: is an Indian word for a type of sauce that may be sweet or spicy. In South India chutneys are usually spicy and may be made with coconut, groundnuts, onions, tomatoes, carrots, garlic, green chilies, mint, etc. The sweet chutneys, often prepared in central and northern India, use raw mangoes, tamarind, and other fruit or vegetables.

Ginger: is derived originally from the Tamil “inji ver” meaning “ginger root.”

Orange: comes from the Sanskrit word “naaranga.”

Mulligatawny: is a spicy soup that is found in most continental menus today. This soup, and word, was adopted into English during the British rule in India from “Melag thanni,” which literally means “pepper water” in Tamil.

Sugar: This everyday word and ingredient originated in India, the Sanskrit word for which was “sharkara” which meant ground or candied sugar. Until sugar became popular years later, most of the world used honey as a sweetener.

These are just a few of the words that India has given to English. Hundreds more can be found in English dictionaries today.

Hasmita Chander is the list owner of Writing in India (