What do the words “pajamas”, “dinghy” and “shampoo” have in common?

Go on: take a guess (and don’t Google it). You might be surprised by what connects these three words: pajamas, dinghy and shampoo.

We are right in assuming that most of our English words are derived from other languages — either Greek or Latin. In fact, about 80% of the entries in any English dictionary are borrowed, mainly from Latin, and more than 60% of all English words have Greek or Latin roots. However, as well as borrowing liberally from French, Russian, Spanish and other European languages, we also have many loan words from other parts of the world, including some wonderful linguistic immigrants of Hindi and Urdu origin — two distinguished registers of the Hindustani language — in everyday standard English usage. Pajamas, dinghy and shampoo are three such examples. Many of the Hindi and Urdu equivalents have originated from Sanskrit, and a lot of these words entered English during the time of the British Raj. These borrowings dating back to the colonial period are often labeled as “Anglo-Indian.” See 28 words below of Hindi and Urdu origin, and if you can think of any more, please add them in the comments section below.

Avatar: A manifestation of a deity or released soul in bodily form on earth; an incarnate divine teacher. From Sanskrit avatāra , descent’.

Bandanna: A large colored handkerchief, typically with white spots, worn tied around the head or neck. Probably via Portuguese from Hindi.

Bangle: A rigid ornamental band worn round the arm or occasionally the ankle. From Hindi baṅglī, ‘glass bracelet’.

Blighty: An informal term for Britain or England, used by soldiers of the First and Second World Wars. Anglo-Indian alteration of Urdu bilāyatī, wilāyatī, ‘foreign, European’, from Arabic wilāyat, wilāya, ‘dominion, district’.

Bungalow: A low house having only one storey or, in some cases, upper rooms set in the roof, typically with dormer windows. From Hindi baṅglā, ‘belonging to Bengal’, from a type of cottage built for early European settlers in Bengal.

Cheetah: A large slender spotted cat found in Africa and parts of Asia. It is the fastest animal on land. From Hindi cītā, perhaps from Sanskrit citraka, ‘leopard’.

Chit, or chitty: A short official note, typically recording a sum owed. Anglo-Indian, from Hindi ciṭṭhī, ‘note, pass’.

Chutney: A spicy condiment of Indian origin, made of fruits or vegetables with vinegar, spices, and sugar. From Hindi caṭnī.

Cot: (British): A small bed with high barred sides for a baby or very young child; (North American): a camp bed.; (nautical): a bed resembling a hammock hung from deck beams, formerly used by officers. From Hindi khāṭ, ‘bedstead, hammock’.

Cummerbund: A sash worn around the waist, especially as part of a man’s formal evening suit. From Urdu and Persian kamar-band, from kamar, ‘waist, loins’ and -bandi, ‘band’.

Cushy: (British, of a job or situation): undemanding, easy, or secure; (North American, of furniture): comfortable. From Urdu ḵushī, ‘pleasure’, from Persian ḵuš.

Dinghy: A small boat for recreation or racing, especially an open boat with a mast and sails. From Hindi ḍiṅgī. The -gh in English serves to indicate the hard g.

Dungaree(s): (British): A garment consisting of trousers with a bib held up by straps over the shoulders, made of calico, denim, or a similar material and worn as casual or working clothes; (North American): hard-wearing blue denim trousers. From Hindi duṅgrī.

Guru: A Hindu spiritual teacher. From Hindi and Punjabi, from Sanskrit guru, ‘weighty, grave’ (compare with Latin gravis).

Jungle: An area of land overgrown with dense forest and tangled vegetation, typically in the tropics. Via Hindi from Sanskrit jāṅgala , rough and arid (terrain)’.

Khaki: A strong cotton or wool fabric of a dull brownish-yellow color, used especially in military clothing; trousers or other clothing made of khaki; a dull greenish or brownish-yellow color. From Urdu khākī, ‘dust-coloured’, from khāk, ‘dust’, from Persian.

Karma: The sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences. Informal: Good or bad luck, viewed as resulting from one’s actions. From Sanskrit karman, ‘action, effect, fate’.

Loot: Private property taken from an enemy in war;  stolen money or valuables. From Hindi lūṭ, from Sanskrit luṇṭh- ‘rob’.

Mantra: A word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation. Sanskrit, literally ‘a thought, thought behind speech or action’, from man- ‘think’, related to mind.

Nirvana: A transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, desire, nor sense of self, and the subject is released from the effects of karma and the cycle of death and rebirth. It represents the final goal of Buddhism. From Sanskrit nirvāṇa, from nirvā ‘be extinguished’.

Punch (the drink): A drink made from wine or spirits mixed with water, fruit juices, spices, etc., and typically served hot. Apparently from Sanskrit pañca, ‘five, five kinds of’ (because the drink had five ingredients).

Pundit: An expert in a particular subject or field who is frequently called upon to give their opinions to the public. From Sanskrit paṇḍita, ‘learned man’.

Pyjamas/pajamas: A loose-fitting jacket and trousers for sleeping in. From Urdu and Persian, from pāy, ‘leg’ + jāma, ‘clothing’.

Shampoo: A liquid preparation for washing the hair. From Hindi cāṃpo!, ‘press!’, imperative of cāṃpnā.

Thug: A violent person, especially a criminal. From Hindi ṭhag, ‘swindler, thief’, based on Sanskrit sthagati, ‘he covers or conceals’.

Toddy: A drink made of spirits with hot water, sugar, and sometimes spices. From Marathi tāḍī, Hindi tāṛī, from Sanskrit tāḏī, ‘palmyra’.

Veranda(h): A roofed platform along the outside of a house, level with the ground floor. From Hindi varaṇḍā, from Portuguese varanda, ‘railing, balustrade’.

Yoga: A Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline, a part of which, including breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures, is widely practiced for health and relaxation. Sanskrit, literally ‘union’.

Other words from proper Indian names or dating from the British Raj:

Bazaar: A market in a Middle Eastern country. From Italian bazarro, from Turkish, from Persian bāzār, ‘market’.

Jodhpurs: Full-length trousers worn for horse riding, which are close-fitting below the knee and have reinforced patches on the inside of the leg. Named after Jodhpur, where similar garments are worn by Indian men as part of everyday dress.

Juggernaut: A huge, powerful, and overwhelming force; (British): a large, heavy vehicle, especially an articulated lorry. An extension of the Hindi name Juggernaut, which became Jagannatha: The form of Krishna worshipped in Puri, Orissa, where in the annual festival his image is dragged through the streets on a heavy chariot; devotees are said formerly to have thrown themselves under its wheels. 

Mogul: An important or powerful person, especially in the film or media industry. Figurative use of Mogul. (A member of the Muslim dynasty of Mongol origin founded by the successors of Tamerlane, which ruled much of India from the 16th to the 19th century.)

Monsoon: A seasonal prevailing wind in the region of South and SE Asia, blowing from the south-west between May and September and bringing rain (the wet monsoon), or from the north-east between October and April (the dry monsoon). From Portuguese monção, from Arabic mawsim ‘season’, from wasama ‘to mark, brand’.

Mufti: (Informal): Plain clothes worn by a person who wears a uniform for their job, such as a soldier or police officer. Perhaps humorously from mufti, meaning a Muslim legal expert who is empowered to give rulings on religious matters. From Arabic muftī, active participle of ‘aftā ‘decide a point of law’.




3 thoughts on “What do the words “pajamas”, “dinghy” and “shampoo” have in common?

  1. Shahid Hussain Raja

    Khaki has its origins in the 1857 Indian War of Independence/Mutiny. During the night skirmishes, the white dress of the Englishmen was an easy target for the Indian rebels while they themselves were protected because of the dust colour of their dresses. So orders were given to the Englishmen to dirty their dresses with KHAK which means dust in Urdu. Hence the word Khaki meaning military uniform.

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