March 26, 2017

The Libtard's Indian Cousins

Anyone who's observed or participated in a political discussion in recent times is probably familiar with the word libtard, a derogatory term for anyone with liberal or left-wing political views. It's a portmanteau word, formed by grafting 'liberal' and 'retard' together, which should tell you that this is a fairly offensive slur. I can't find anything online that establishes definitively who coined the word, or where it was used first. On Quora, there's some speculation that it was created by Rush Limbaugh or one of his speechwriters; one commenter notes that the blogger Madison Slade aka Moxie claimed to have invented it. It's dated early 21st century in most places - a quick Google search uncovered an example from 2004, though of course, it's always possible that the word was in use informally in the nineties, as some people have claimed on Yahoo Answers.  

Libtard is such a Twitter word, I thought of checking when it was first used there. To my surprise, it didn't come into circulation on Twitter till 2008, when the twitter handle began using it as a hashtag along with other right-wing Twitterers (Is that a word? I refuse to use 'Tweeple').  Unsurprisingly, most of the Indian variants of the word appear to have been coined and flung around quite liberally in the heated run-up to the 2014 general elections, which brought out armies of trolls who supported the Gujarati politician Narendra Modi's rise to the national political scene. Here's a brief genealogy of libtard's Indian relatives, along with the earliest tweet I could find which used the neologism in question. Statutory warning: all these words are offensive and absolutely not to be used in polite conversation.

Namtard, Namotard

A supporter of Narendra Modi. Portmanteau word using the politician's Hindi initials (Na. Mo. न. मो.) Modi's critics tend to pun on his initials to deride his followers as sheep, since they form the Sanskrit word namo नमो, which means 'I bow'.

A supporter of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which opposes Narendra Modi's Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

A supporter of Narendra Modi. From the Hindi slang word 'feku', one who spins lies or makes tall claims - the root word is phenkna, to throw out.  A frequent accusation against Narendra Modi in the 2014 elections was that he made promises he couldn't possibly keep.

A supporter of Rahul Gandhi, a Congress (I) leader who BJP supporters call Pappu - a dismissive nickname for a young boy.

From bhakt, a devotee. A derogatory word for an unquestioning follower of right-wing ideologies, or a fan of Narendra Modi. A religious bent is implied.  
Indian Twitter users tend to coin portmanteau words like these all the time. The practice is not limited to politics: loyal fans of the actor Salman Khan (nicknamed bhai, or brother) are sometimes derogatorily called bhaitards.

March 19, 2017


The South China Morning Post runs a language column titled Language Matters by Lisa Lim, which occasionally picks up Indian words that have been adopted in Hong Kong English. Many of these words are the legacy of a shared colonial past, borrowed by the English in India and taken by them to the other colonies they ruled in Asia. A recent column deals with one such word, which is now rarely used in its colonial form in Indian English. As Lim points out, the word shroff, which is related to the Gujarati saraf, has fallen out of use elsewhere, but survives in Hong Kong English. It entered the language via Portuguese, which was the lingua franca of Asian ports before the English came to these shores.
As far back as the early 1600s, the word “shroff” – including the forms “shrofe”, “sheroffe” and “sheraff” – has been used in the English language. It was documented in colonial writings on India, referring to local Asian bankers or money changers in the British East Indies. The word entered English via the Anglo-Indian English “sharaf”, but its origins lie in the Arabic sarrāf (“money-changer”), entering Persian as sarrāf , and Gujarati as šaraf in the period of Perso-Arabic influence over the language during the mid-13th to mid-19th centuries of Persian Muslim rule – the Delhi sultanate and the Mughal empire – in the Indian subcontinent.It entered Portuguese as xaraffo during the European coloniser’s long occupation in India from the mid-16th century – referring to customs officers and money-changers, and also providing us with xarafaggio (“shroffage”, the xaraffo’s commission), as noted in a 1585 colonial report from Goa.
 Hobson-Jobson defines shroff  as an expert employed by banks and mercantile firms 'to check the quality of the dollars that pass into the houses'. Over the years shroff has meant many different things – money changer, silver expert, customs officer, court money collector, cashier’s office – but is now used narrowly in Hong Kong to refer to a cashier, cashier’s office or payment booth, in government offices, hospitals and car parks. Meanwhile in India, the word is more commonly encountered as a Gujarati surname and any mention of shroffage would probably bring this to mind.

March 12, 2017

Catty Christs in Kolkata

Since I havent posted here in a while, I have a backlog of links to share. For starters, heres a Caravan essay by Chitralekha Basu on how English turns Bengali in Kolkata. The passage Im quoting here provides some some examples of Hobson-Jobsonism from the 19th century Bengali satire Hutom Pyanchar Naksha:
Plenty of instances of tweaking and twisting English may be found in Hootum Pyanchar Naksha, a series of vignettes published in the form of stand-alone chapbooks over 1861 and 1862, which lampooned the social mores of nineteenth-century Kolkata. In this first work of modern Bengali prose, written by Kaliprasanna Sinha under the pen name “Hootum”—screech owl, in Bengali—“subpoena” is tenderised to “sawfen,” and “phaeton” is recast as “pheting,” almost as if to resonate with the sound of its juddering journey down Kolkata’s potholed roads (which haven’t changed all that much in a century and a half). The last consonant of “warrant” is dropped to turn it into “warrin,” almost as a throwback to David Copperfield. Chemistry is fondly shortened to “chemia.”
In his sketches on Kolkata’s social life, Sinha reinvented “catechist” as “Catty-Christ.” “Jackson” was rendered “Jakh Sen,” which could pass as a Bengali name. “Tartar emetic” was compressed to “Tartametic”—suggesting that this vomit-inducing medicine, often administered to patients suffering from the deadly kala-azar, was both quick and efficient—and the words “grand jury” were transliterated to something sounding very close to “grandeur.”

Basu has previously translated Kaliprasanna Sinha’s work into English under the title Sketches by Hootum the Owl: A Satirist’s View of Colonial Calcutta. The foreword is by the novelist Amit Chaudhuri, whose observations on Sinha’s racy chalit style (‘all imagery and language, in a way that at once looks forward to the world of modernism, especially to the great novels about citiesUlysses comes to mindwhich increasingly abandon the notions of character, description, and subject-matter, and become predominantly an efflorescence of language’) can be found here.

March 02, 2017

'A Nose like a Pontiac'

Parsi Bol 2 is an updated edition of Sooni Taraporevala and Meher Marfatia's very entertaining book on Parsi insults, endearments and other Parsi Gujarati phrases (see below). This one adds over 300 idioms, illustrations and a CD of phrases voiced by theatre actors Dolly and Bomi Dotiwala, as well as film actor Boman Irani. 

A selection of colourful, eccentric phrases from reviews of the book in Quint, Daily Pao and the Indian Express:

Dhoila moora jhevo pacho ayo (literally 'returned looking like a washed out radish', figuratively, 'returned without achieving anything')

Edya nee juherkhubur jhevoo mohnoo (literally, ‘face like an advertisement for castor oil’, figuratively,‘dour-faced’),

Fuskaila darum jhevoo dachoo (literally ‘face like a cracked pomegranate’; figuratively ‘grinning widely’)

Leedoo apee neh eedo leedho (literally ‘give a goat’s turd and ask for an egg’, figuratively ‘give nothing and take much’)

Nahi agasee nahi otlo (literally, ‘neither a balcony nor a verandah’, figuratively, ‘a woman with neither boobs nor bum’)

Nuseeb ma doodhee (literally, 'cheap pumpkin in your destiny', figuratively, 'to achieve nothing in life')

Suhrah chhuh noh kato (literally, ‘hands of the clock at 6.30’, figuratively, ‘impotent’)
 As in the earlier version of the book, the most vivid metaphors involve fruits, vegetables and sundry dishes, reflecting the Parsi community's love of food. The Parsi penchant for cracking an egg on everything from okra to goatmeat is satirised in the fine phrase aafat par eedu - the word aafat would translate here as 'problem' or 'calamity', so that's a fiasco with a fried egg on top, a fuck-up with a flourish.

January 16, 2014


Parsi Bol, a Gujarati-English phrasebook which catalogues the caustic insults and salty lingo of the Parsi community. From Time Out :
Photographer-filmmaker Sooni Taraporevala and writer Meher Marfatia have come up with a book called Parsi Bol: Insults, Endearments and other Parsi Gujarati Phrases. The book is a collection of 730 phrases, which the writers believe are as much a part of the community’s heritage as exquisitely embroidered garas and lagan-nu-achaar. “Like everything about our community, our language – Parsi Gujarati – is completely our own and nowhere is this more evident than in the phrases we use: unique, inventive, lively, often combining wildly opposing things,” states the introduction to this compilation. “We want to archive the gems we grew up hearing, before the generation that knows them dies out.” 
Mumbai Boss has some more examples of eccentric Parsi creativity from the book: 
It takes some imagination to come up with a line like “Oont nee gaan ma jeera no vughar”, which literally means “a sprinkling of jeera in the bum of the camel”, a phrase uttered when someone with a large appetite is offered little food. Not surprisingly the bum is frequently (we couldn’t resist the pun) the butt of the joke. If you want to insult a fence sitter, call him a “gaan vugur no loto”, a vessel without a bum. You can say of someone who’s ignorant that “gaan neh soodhlo nathi”, meaning his arse is clueless. And our favourite, for sheer silliness, is “motai na musa”, meaning haemorrhoids of greatness, to be used to carp about someone who has delusions of grandeur.
My favourite phrases are the ones that evoke surreal images:
Chumna jeva pug (Feet like pomfrets) - Large feet 
Mai mooro bap gajar (Father a radish, mother a carrot) - Mixed fare
Ghudeeyal chai peeyech (The clock is out drinking tea) - Time is passing slowly 

May 23, 2013

Mumbai glossary

The current issue of Time Out Mumbai has a glossary of "city slang, lingo and khali pili faltu giri". A few random selections that range from old favourites (ghanta) to recent coinages (raita phalana) to the mystifying (gajkaran, where does that come from?):
aand mat chaba Same as paka mat, although “aand” means the skin on the scrotum. Variation: aandwa. “Wear your seatbelt ya! Pandu pakdega toh aand chabayega”.
babaji ka ghanta Balls! From a nude babaji (holy man)’s gently swaying junk. Often shortened to just ghanta, meaning zippo, “yeah, right”. 
bakchodi Generally faffing, talking rubbish, doing nothing or “taking someone’s trip”. “We didn’t do anything productive, we were just doing bakchodi.” 
champu A dorky looking person, with oiled hair, thickrimmed specs and so on. 
chop To be humiliated or distressed. “I tripped on the marble and fell face-first. Itni chop hui. 
gajkaran Someone who loves Itchguard.
heights Often used in an exclamation indicating something like, “This is too much!” A stand-out line from Jab We Met where a characater proclaims, “Yeh toh heights hai!” 
lenduk Literally, a turd 
matka maarna To bunk. “Aaj physics ko matka marte hain yaar.” 
matter hona The patois version of, “something has happened”. “Arre solid matter happened in the building after the Holi party.” 
raita phail gaya The shit hit the fan. “The princi caught us smoking in the loo – raita phail gaya.” 
todu A multi-tasking word with several variations. Runs the gamut from “great” to “excellent” to “fantastic”. The degree varies with the number of notional exclamation marks at the end of the delivery.
More here. There's also a Twitter hashtag where you can #bolbambai  

May 05, 2013

David Crystal on Indian English

Daal gosht

Mumbai Mirror report on street vendors of mobile phone porn includes some of their jargon. Read about kaand videos,  staged to resemble amateur MMS scandal clips, and code words like daal gosht and pelampaal.
It's hardly a secret that several of the city's cell phone repair shops and SIM card kiosks that flaunt a computer, stock smut in secret folders marked by gibberish names. "We get some women, too," one owner says. "They say, "Zara woh waale movies daal dena."  
Which brings you to the rules of the mobile-porn-off-the-street universe.  
A blunt demand for a blue film clip will send shopkeepers into a shell. Some may even express mock disgust at your request. Blame it on random raids by the State Anti-Piracy Cell. Around South Mumbai's markets, for instance, code words 'Daal gosht' or 'Pelampaal' put the Flashing-Loading-Repairing stall owners at ease. 

February 26, 2012

February 13, 2012

Goat dressed as mutton dressed as lamb

Some day I'll write an essay about misnaming in Indian English: the many tangled reasons which lead people in this country to use the word swan for a goose, autumn for the rainy season, and so on.  Meanwhile, here's food critic Vir Sanghvi on why mutton stands for goat meat in Indian restaurant menus.
Just as every MP begins his or her career with a lie – by saying that total electoral expenditure was under the limit – so every chef and restaurant manager who writes a menu usually starts out with a lie of his or her own. The lie consists of a description of the red meat that is used in the kitchen. Often, the menu will simply say ‘mutton’. This is a term widely used in the culinary world to describe meat from a sheep. The term ‘lamb’ is restricted to young sheep. If the meat comes from an older animal then ‘mutton’ is used. It is the sort of distinction embodied by the phrase ‘mutton dressed as lamb’, commonly employed to describe older women who try and dress young. 
The problem, of course, is that the kitchen does not use mutton, no matter what it says on the menu. The chances are that the chef is using goat, a meat for which the term mutton is never used outside of India. Some chefs and menu writers go further with their evasions. In the descriptive line below such menu staples as seekh kebab and raan, they will use lamb instead of goat. So, a seekh kebab will be described as ‘minced lamb cooked on a skewer in the tandoor’ and a raan as ‘leg of lamb’.
The HT Brunch article can be found here

February 11, 2012

Vote Banks

With assembly elections coming up, the newspapers are full of the jargon of India's electoral politics. 'Vote Bank' is one such phrase, which refers to a bloc of voters from a social group - a caste or community or religious minority, say - which can be counted on to back a specific party or candidate consistently. But who coined the term, and how did it come into use? This column by Ramachandra Guha in The Hindu traces the phrase back to a seminal 1955 essay by the sociologist M N Srinivas titled 'The Social System of a Mysore Village', quoting the paragraph where it first appeared.
The word “party” has become a Kannada word. Every administrator and politician speaks of “party politics” in villages, and even villagers are often heard saying, “There is too much ‘party’ in such and such a village”. The coming of elections gives fresh opportunities for the crystallization of parties around patrons. Each patron may be said to have a “vote bank” which he can place at the disposal of a provincial or national party for a consideration which is not mentioned but implied. The secret ballot helps to preserve the marginal affiliation of the marginal clients.
As Guha points out, the meaning of the phrase has shifted since then, referring not to patrons and their clients, but 'a collective political preference exercised by a particular interest group'. See also the entry in Wikipedia, which adds that the meaning of Srinivas' expression was first modified by F. G. Bailey, a professor of anthropology at the University of California, San Diego, in his 1959 book Politics and Social Change.

August 08, 2011

Hawala codes

The Indian Express on the codes used by Kashmiri separatist leaders and militants in illegal cross-border financial transactions ('NIA decodes: Chini is hawala money, Re 1 is Rs 1 lakh', The Indian Express, 8 August 2011):
‘Dukaan khol kar rakho’ (open the shop) meant ‘switch on the mobile phone’; ‘dawai le li hai’ (bought the medicine) meant ‘money has been taken’. These were among some of the codes — now part of the NIA chargesheet — that terrorists from Pakistan used for communicating with four separatist leaders who are now in jail in an alleged hawala racket.
Hawala refers to a traditional Indian system of remitting money, now deemed illegal. A description can be found here

July 09, 2011

Musical shorthand

Singer Shubha Mudgal records the jargon of Mumbai's sessions musicians in a pre-digital era (Musical Shorthand, Mint Lounge, July 9, 2011):
...what would you do if you were asked to play a rhythm pattern called “78”? You or I could just sit there looking completely befuddled, but a sessions musician would know instantly that he had to play a specific rhythm pattern that became exceedingly popular in 1978! And if 78 isn’t funny enough, how about making sense of “gumboot”! Yes, that’s right. Rhythm players use the term to indicate the specific sound produced on the dholak.

February 27, 2011

Voices from the past

Sohini Chattopadhyay reports in OPEN Magazine (26 February, 2011) that the records of India’s first and only Linguistic Survey, conducted by the British Raj over 1914-29, are now available on the internet, thanks to Shahid Amin, professor of history at Delhi University.
The professor is an impatient man, with a penchant for audacious projects. “This is incredible material, I didn’t want it to lie in some stuffy library in the West where only research scholars could access it. The people who really know these languages might be living in a village,” says Amin. So he proposed that the gramophone records be digitised, all 242 of them, and put up on the net where everyone could access it.

Six years later, with the help of a US federal grant, the University of Chicago and his own resourcefulness, Amin’s big idea has materialised: has all 242 gramophone recordings, categorised by the language group it belongs to, the year and place of recording. And it’s free, open to all.
The original intent behind the recordings was to help train new entrants to the Indian Civil Service, but under George A. Grierson of the LSI, the project was expanded in scope to become a more ambitious survey. As a result, the audio clips now available online include such treasures as the only extant recordings of the lost art of Dastangoi, as practiced by the legendary story-teller Mir Baqar Ali. Here's the Delhi dastango, narrating a story in Urdu.

Ass Backwards

Save the Words is a website from the makers of the Oxford English Dictionary, dedicated to saving underused words from extinction: words such as graviloquence and pigritude and squiriferous, that you are encouraged to adopt and re-introduce to the English language. As the examples I've cited illustrate,  there's a preponderance of leaden, faux-literate words here - these are the lumbering tuataras of the linguistic world, and I, for one, would rather see them waddle into oblivion. I think someone should instead make an effort to rescue certain racy Indian terms that have fallen into disuse. I'd like to make a start on the project by nominating a colourful expression I found recently in Joseph Thompson's A dictionary of Oordoo and English. Here's the entry from the dictionary, courtesy Google Books:

Gand ghalat (literally, 'ass-wrong') is the word here, defined as 'dead stupid' (the comma in the excerpt above has to be an error). Several other dictionaries from the nineteenth century present gand ghalat as a synonym for being out of one's wits, fuddled, or dead-drunk. The latter meaning can be found in John Gilchrist's Hindee moral preceptor, published in 1821, and Duncan Forbes' A dictionary, Hindustani and English.
Given its ubiquity in colonial-era dictionaries, gand ghalat must have been a very useful expression for the British in India. When I first encountered the term, I imagined red-faced Tommies and irate mofussil officials (or should that be mofussials?) muttering it under their breath as they contended with the baffling, plain-ass ghalat realities of an alien land.  But maybe I was dead wrong in picturing mad dogs and Englishmen sweltering in the mid-day sun, and the expression is meant to be used in more pleasant circumstances. Maybe it describes how you end up when the booze addles your brains to the point where you can't stand straight, and you topple over to land on your sorry ass. There you are in the gutter, gand ghalat.