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A Few of My Favorite “Indianisms”

August 3, 2010

I’ll admit that the actual definition of an “Indianism” is a little ambiguous, but for my purposes, I’m using Indianism to mean an English word or phrase as it’s used in India.  These are just a few of the Indianisms that I could think of off the top of my head – I’m sure there are more!

  • Pre-pone – The opposite of post-pone; To push something forward.  (Apparently this phrase has become so popular that it’s even been added to a few dictionaries!)  It looks like next week won’t work for me, so can we pre-pone our lunch to this week?
  • To Gym – To go to the gym.  You’re looking very slim these days.  Have you been gymming?
  • To Ring – To call on the telephone.  I’ll ring him up to find out what time he’s coming.
  • Program – Plan, esp. a plan for the day.  So, what’s today’s program?
  • To PainTo hurt.  My muscles are really paining after so much gymming.
  • Geyser – Hot water heater found in most bathrooms.  (I find this one funny mainly because of how it’s pronounced – Gee-zer.  I always imagine an old man waiting to heat up some water for me.)  If you want a hot bath you’ll have to put the geyser on beforehand.
  • To Take Tension – To feel concerned or nervous.  She’s really taking a lot of tension from work.
  • To Shift – To move; To change locations. When do you plan to shift to your new home in Delhi?
  • Goggles – Sunglasses.  It’s sunny today.  You should plan to wear your goggles.
  • Slippers – Sandals.  You always see women wearing slippers in the market.
  • Cousin-Brother/ Cousin-Sister – Male/Female first cousin.  (In extended Indian families there is little differentiation between one’s own siblings and one’s cousins of the same generation.)  My cousin-brother lives in the States.
14 Comments leave one →
  1. August 3, 2010 4:50 pm

    Oh, Indianisms. The one I still can’t figure out is the use of the word “only.” It’s distinctly different from ways I’ve ever heard it used before. Such as, “You are leaving now only?” Any insight as to what it means?

    Another one of my favorites is the word “duffer.” I wish I could use that word and not laugh at myself every time.

    • Your Mama permalink
      August 3, 2010 7:27 pm

      “ONLY” is a funny word. You can put it nearly ANYWHERE in the sentance, and it will still make sense, but can change the meaning at the same time.

      Only you are leaving now? (Nobody else is going with you?)
      You only are leaving now? (You haven’t left already?!?)
      You are only leaving now? (same as above)
      You are leaving only now? (same as above)
      You are leaving now only? (same as above)

    • August 3, 2010 8:55 pm

      Haha “only” is a funny one. I hear it from my Indian friends and family all of the time – “We’re sitting at home only”; “Those people are like that only”.

      It seems to me that it’s used as an emphatic particle – it drives the point home. So rather than just “leaving now” you’re “leaving now only” That’s my best explanation for it!

    • August 5, 2010 11:54 am

      This one really gets at me too! Once you learn a bit more Hindi, you’ll realise where it comes from and why they speak like this “only”. There’s a word “hi” (pronounced “hee” and meaning only) that often goes on the end of sentences in Hindi. So, Indians do a direct translation of the way they speak and put it on the end of English sentences too.

      Another thing you might notice is the inappropriate use of “isn’t it?” Eg: We’re going to have fun today, isn’t it? It comes from the Hindi word “na”, that Indians use as a kind of question at the end of sentences. So it would be “We’re going to have fun today, na?” The literal translation of “na” is “”isn’t it”… so it gets lumped on the end of English sentences in that form too! 😛

      • August 5, 2010 4:07 pm

        Ahhh that does explain the use of “only”

        I knew about “na” and its translation to “isn’t it” (although I often hear “hai na” being used to convey the same thought.) I sometimes even find myself using that one! I’ll say a sentence in English, and then tack “hai na” on at the end of it just to confirm with whomever I’m talking to!

    • Dr. Ram permalink
      September 4, 2011 11:11 pm

      English usage is difficult and many butcher English without knowing the usage of a word.

      The meaning in the following sentences is different:

      1.. He only knows English

      2. He knows only English

      So, if you would like to learn English and speak it correctly, then use Oxford English. Duke of Edinbourgh speaks standard Kings English.

      Again, the words like due to, owing to, or I shall and I will so few use correctly.

  2. August 3, 2010 8:37 pm

    K.E. … just found your blog via your mama! In a weird twist of reality, it turns out we moved from the SAME county in Ohio as your family lives? SMALL world!

    My addition to the India-isms is “standing on your head” … as in “Did you stand on his head?” or “did you get onto him about his attitude?”

    • August 3, 2010 9:31 pm

      Well that really is a small world! Thank goodness for Mamas like mine who make these connections possible!

      “Standing on your head” is a good one. I also forgot “firing”, as in, “I gave him a good firing”, or a stern talking-to.

    • Priti permalink
      November 19, 2010 7:21 pm

      Hello Naomi,

      The Indian phrase standing on my head means you are bothering me with your presence , please explain your context.

  3. August 5, 2010 12:00 pm

    Another couple of English words used in funny English contexts that drive me a bit mad:

    -Intimate (not as in to get intimate/close with someone, but to let them know/ inform them of something. Pronounced in-tee-mate not in-tee-mat). “Please intimate me at the earliest with the details”.

    -Felicitate. A big and cumbersome word that just doesn’t sound right!!! But Indians love using it in the context of lavishing praise and recognition on someone. “He was felicitated at an awards ceremony”.


  4. August 6, 2010 1:02 pm

    Only makes so much more sense now! My boyfriend’s adorable 6-year-old niece uses it all the time. She speaks decent English (in addition to Hindi, Bengali and Marathi), but I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t be able to explain what she meant by it. Thanks!

  5. April Morris permalink
    August 19, 2010 7:29 pm

    Some of those terms are very English in origin (“touch wood”). Thirty years ago, when the senior population was different that it is now, I would have patients tell me that something was “paining” them. I would get to the point of asking, “Does your shoulder pain you? Your back?” I imagine if I used that term today, no one would understand the question.

  6. andrea permalink
    September 10, 2010 6:54 am

    some of these things are not simply indianisms. In Australia we ring people too. Its probably more a britishism as are some of the others in your list such as to shift, and program, although in Australia we could use those but we don’t use them as much as they might in India.

    Yes I love goggles. That always cracks me up.

    On only and na, french also has this form, exactly like in hindi – n’est pas, means isn’t it. When i had a french boyfriend who was learning english from me, he would often say things like, we can go now, isn’t it? or we shouldn’t do that, isn’t it? For example.

    On only, people always ask me, “are you single only”.

    I Just realised that maybe katharine is british which seems to scotch my idea that these terms are british, but I still think they are because we in oz use them too and we take our cues at least in teh past from the brits.

    • September 10, 2010 7:35 pm

      Hi Andrea,

      I think you’re correct in saying that many of these are Britishisms rather than Indianisms, because they do seem to be used in several Commonwealth countries. As an American, though, most of them were new to me!

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