Delightful Indian English

The accent of one’s birth place persists in the mind and heart as much as in speech

La Rochefoucauld  (Maxims 1665)

People say I write just like I talk. Now is that a compliment? I’m not sure. I get teased and imitated all the time. More than my accent, it’s the way I talk–my gestures, expressions etc. The cross-pollination of several cultures, I believe– Indian, British-colonial and American.

We Indians are probably the most imitated people in the world. I don’t find that offensive. I think our funny English endears us. An Indian accent can break up tension, pretty quick. Take a stressful situation, say in a courtroom or workplace. Throw in someone like Appu from The Simpsons (now that’s a gross exaggeration, but you get the idea) and before you know it, smiles will start peeping out of people. This may not work for every situation. Like when your computer is on the blink, the last thing you want to hear on the customer service line is an Indian trying not to sound like one. Speaking of which, who’s seen The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movie? Great movie. Deeply human and touching in parts, I thought.

Indian words have added color and variety to the English language. Most date back to  the colonial days. Especially delightful are the double-barrelled rhyming words that are so essentially Indian such as: hurdy-gurdytip-tophiggledy-piggledyhocus-pocustit-for-tattopsy-turvyharum-scarumroly-poly ,slip-slop…”

A friend of our family’s (a well-known glutton) would over-stuff himself at our dinner table and refuse another helping saying, “Thank you but I am fully fed-up!”

Another time an Indian student explained her absence in my design class saying she had “the loose motions” (A common Indian term for ‘the runs’). “Oh wow,” exclaimed this American girl, looking impressed. Later the American girl told me she thought “loose motion” was some kind of exotic dance. Like “Do the locomotion“.


Don’t you just love it!!!

If we Indians mess up English, the Brits mess up our language too. “Theek hai Babu” (“alright clerk” in Hindi) becomes “Ticketyboo” for the English. (Thank you Larry Brown for that little gem!)

Consider these British-Indian words which have become mainstream.

  • A – atoll, avatar
  • B – bandana, bangle, bazaar, Blighty, bungalow
  • C– cashmere, catamaran, char, cheroot, cheetah, chintz, chit, chokey, chutney, cot, cummerbund, curry
  • D – dinghy, doolally, dungarees
  • A modern rubber inflatable dinghy

    Dinghy: a type of small boat, often carried or towed for use as a ship’s boat by a larger vessel. It is a loanword from either Bengali or Urdu.

  • G– guru, gymkhana

    The Jorhat Gymkhana Club in Assam famous for its polo matches and other sporting events.

    Gymkhana: “It is applied to a place of public resort at a station, where the needful facilities for athletics and games of sorts are provided.”

  • H – hullabaloo
  • J – jodhpur, jungle, juggernaut, jute
  • K– khaki, kedgeree
  • L – loot
  • N – nirvana
  • P – pariah, pashmina, polo, pukka, pundit, purdah, pyjamas
  • S – sari, shampoo, shawl, swastika
  • T – teak, thug, toddy, typhoon
  • V – veranda: An open pillared gallery round a house.

    A typical tea garden bungalow with wrap-around verandah
  • Y – yoga
Sources: Hobson-Jobson, Oxford English Dictionary
Click these links for some delightful sampling of Indian English:
PS: If you are a huffy Indian who gets offended by stereotypes please go read some other blog. This is not meant to offend  anyone but to revel in our rich cultural uniqueness. I love being Indian.
I love accents – all kinds.  French, Scottish, Cockney and Ghetto. They sure give me the jollies. Do you get a kick out of accents? Do you speak with one? Please share.
Cheers, dear friends!
My debut novel “Teatime for the Firefly”  (MIRA/HARLEQUIN) is slated for publication in 2013.  You can read the synopsis and first chapter by CLICKING HERE. Please leave me your comments. Thank you!

20 thoughts on “Delightful Indian English

  1. What a wonderful post and a splendid list of words and phrases. I think my favourite Indian expression is peely-wally, which I always thought was Scottish, until I went to Pakistan and discovered that it was Urdu/Hindi. I was so chuffed, and I found many other words and phrases that sounded familiar, all of which delighted me. India has given so much to the world, and so much to British culture and language, and we would be far worse off without that input so thank you India!

    Personally, I don’t have an accent, ha ha. I have in fact been told I don’t have an accent by several people, which I find very odd because even if they can’t place it they must realise that it sounds different from other accents they’ve heard. Some British people have told me they don’t even think I sound Scottish, which is bizarre as I was born and bred in Scotland and learned to speak like other Edinburgh folk. Mind you, as far as Scots are concerned, Edinburgh is widely acknowledged to have the mildest of accents, far removed from the up and down musical sounds of Glasgow.

    I love accents too – Scottish, English, Irish, Welsh, French, Spanish and all others, but especially Indian, which is terribly endearing and loveable. I would love to hear you speak, Shona! 🙂

    That information about ticketyboo is brilliant by the way – I had no idea!


        1. You’re spot on with your translation, Shona, pale face describes peely wally. If a person is looking peely wally, he/she is off colour and shows it on their pale face.
          Do you think American Indians thought the first white settlers looked a wee bit peely wally when they dubbed them ‘palefaces’ Ha ha


          1. Just thought of another one from English to Hindi———‘Desoleye’—-a match. Comes from British, prob Scottish, soldiers needing a light for their fags—-“Gees a light”


    1. The Scottish brogue is one of my favorite. It is a delight to hear my friend Davey speak. I am surprised you don’t have a Scottish accent, Lorna. I could have sworn it heard it in your writing!


  2. I’m sorry I sent that off before I could complete it….’peely-wally’ in Indian or Pakistani, would mean ‘the yellow one’, yes?
    Aaah I’m wagging my head as I say that, in true Indian style!

    I love accents too and have great fun trying to figure out where someone is from, just by their accent!


      1. Yep – if you go back to the context Sporranmaker gave, it would mean someone looking jaundiced, or yellow. I love my copy of Hobson-Jobson.

        And if you’re looking out for some Scottish / Indian comedy try out Dhanny boy….


  3. Hi Shona. I owe quite a debt re tit-for-tat and roly-poly. Love those…The way Trinis talk is said to be sing-song. You are right. Accents and those “cross-pollinated” words add such colour and flavour. You know, while talking we use our hands a great deal, too. Call it punctuation 🙂 I’m surprised we don’t clothes-line people mid-conversation. You enjoy your week, girl.


    1. Yes I can imagine how Trinis talk – such colorful people. We Indians are full of head-shakes, eye rolls and hand-puntuations too. The Indian maybe-yes-maybe-no headshake is a classic in itself


  4. I adore the Indian accent, Shona (in my ignorance I guess I’m assuming there’s only one, and clearly you’ve said there are more). It really is a sweet, endearing accent – and especially given to humor. Maybe that stems partly from being such an old culture?? I don’t know. I love Indian movies, and books set in India. It seems a very exotic place.

    My mother speaks with a Boston accent, which is often funny and has gotten her into some strange situations when others have misunderstood her. And my dad’s family was French Canadian, so he has a funny accent and speaks very fast. I’ve been told I sound like a ‘typical Californian’ (whatever that is). I think it means I have no accent at all – but is such a thing even possible? My husband, who’s from the Midwest, used to tease me that I sounded like a valley girl. Oh my God!! No way! Yes totally!

    Would love to hear you speak someday…maybe a video post one week? 🙂


  5. Boston accent is one of my favorite. I can catch that one right away. I love all the different American accents. There was a great PBS program a while back “Do you speak American” which traces US accents from coast to coast. Fascinating! Video posts from me coming up someday…


  6. The words ” theek hai babu/ ticketyboo” reminded me of “hari om” being mistaken for “hurry home” ( a joke on the internet) and how in British India, the religious murmuring of “hori bol” murmured by a Bengali, was mistaken by a Brit to be a Bengali utterance of “horrible.” Assam has added to the lighter side of English,with the jokes of “snacks” pronounced as “snakes” and “chilli” as “silly.” Do I have an accent ? Well it’s not typically N-E Indian ( my father told us to speak any language, as it is to be spoken) and it’s far from being typically indian ( I went out of the N-E, only after post-graduation). You’ll get to hear after we “bump into” each other “someday” ( quoting words from your reply to my 2nd comment of the day before yester’). Just let me know when you’ll be in India and we can meet somewhere, preferably in the North-East.


  7. Hahahahha, I’m having a good laugh 🙂 Have you heard of ‘ chutnified ‘ yet ? It means more like ‘crucified ‘ !!! Lol….


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