Festive 50 Part 2: 40-31

And so, from Birds to Words.

As a foreigner, one of the things you notice when moving here is that the English language has followed its own evolutionary path since the time of “British India”.  This can bring amusement, bemusement or confusion, but usually joy of some sort.  As someone who’s interested in languages anyway, I love it.

Anyway, here are 10 words and expressions that I’ve encountered so far — again in no particular order.

#40: Lakh (and Crore)

Apparently this is totally unique to the Indian sub-continent. Here a hundred thousand  is referred to as a “Lakh”, written as 1,00,000.  And ten million is a “Crore”, written as 1,00,00,000.   This is really confusing, especially with the placement of commas, but most people will only ever find it an issue when paying a deposit for a flat — especially here in Bangalore, where it’s considered “normal” to pay 10 months’ rent as a deposit.  So if your rent is Rs 15,000 a month you would normally pay 1.5 Lakh deposit.

#39: Uncle (and Aunty)

Calling someone “Uncle” or “Aunty” is considered a mark of respect for someone who’s older.  Again, a bit weird for a new-comer, although I quite like it now.  It somehow seems more respectful and dignified to talk to, or about, an older cleaning-lady in a saree  as an “aunty” rather than some kind of servant or menial worker.

Another aspect of the same idea is to refer to a man as “Boss” (typically a shop-keeper or an auto driver), although to anyone who’s ever watched “Roots” this might have connotations of some kind of colonial/slave-trade relationship that’s quite uncomfortable.

#38: Click

To ‘click’ something here is to photograph it.  Same as ‘snap’ or ‘shoot’ I guess, although there’s something nice about having a different word for it.

#37: Shift

To shift is to move house or relocate.  I’m just about to shift on 7th Jan, hopefully.

#36: Expire

To die.  A co-worker recently told me “My father has expired”.  I knew immediately what he meant, and it sounds quite dignified, but I would be more likely to use the term to refer to a license or permit or something.

#35: Doubt/Revert

Question. Took me a while to get used to this one… as a lecturer I’m always encouraging students to “get back to me” with any “questions”.  Turns out that it’s more appropriate to ask them to “revert” with any “doubts”.

The first time  a student came to see me with “some doubts”, I assumed he was thinking of leaving the course or something, in other words doubting his decision to study his chosen subject.

#34: Out of Station

To be away from the office, or from home.  Presumably a military origin. “Sorry sir, Venky is out of station until next week.”


Some words in common usage are considered archaic in modern English, but are still used here, so they have a quaint but charming quality about them…

#33: Nab

To apprehend.  You see this a lot in newspapers, along with similar language: “The miscreants were nabbed before they could abscond with the loot”.

#32: Do the Needful

Pretty self-explanatory, but this was a bit of a surprise the first time it turned up in an e-mail at work… “Kindly do the needful”.


And finally…


#31: Itself/Only

This is way more perplexing than any of the above, and could have a whole blog dedicated to it.  Itself.

It’s also very hard to explain… maybe some examples will help:

Electricity is not there, itself.

Take an auto to Majestic Bus Station, only.

As far as I can tell, this usage is related to the use of the Hindi particle hi/ही (pronounced ‘hee’), which indicates something special, exact or specific, or connotes something like the English ‘very’, particularly older usage as in “this very place”.   Presumably most Indian languages have an equivalent.

I’m still trying to work this out, and would appreciate hearing from anyone who can shed more light on its origins.

* * *

Of course, one of the great joys of living and working in a foreign country is that you gain an insight into someone else’s culture, and maybe if you learn their language then you get some idea of how they think as well.  Here in India, where there are between 22 and 1600 languages (depending on how you count), there is a great need for mutual understanding across languages and communities. English has played an important role as a Lingua Franca, a second or other language for many people, and it’s really interesting to see how it’s been adopted, adapted and modified by everyday Indians over the years.







  1. Aamir

    23 December, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    Nice post Chris. Here are a few more which you might have come across:

    Tell me. Meaning “how can I help” or similar
    Reduce. To lose weight. One of my team members from India came across and told me he needed to reduce! It took a while to figure out what he meant.
    Fass Class. How are you? Fass Class. Meaning First Class! Very well, excellent, brilliant etc.
    Cent per Cent. Meaning 100 per cent. “I’ve checked the code and all comment is there already. Code is checked in and compilation is cent per cent”
    Revert. “Send me the request and I will revert back by tomorrow morning itself” Revert meaning reply.

  2. ima

    31 March, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    hi there. I am a foreigner myself and just like you, I still experience confusion on the use of words here. Once, my father in law used the word ‘only’. At first, I thought he meant only as in exclusively. Like when he said that a particular brand of shoes popular worldwide are being made here in India only, he meant that they were actually just made here and not somewhere else as one would be under the impression of. I hope that shed some light.

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