Is that girl eating your brain? No, she’s not a zombie. That’s Indian English for “is she bothering you?” The same words we use in the United States can have very different meanings in India, where English is spoken by over 125 million people. Some phrases are unique combinations of English words that are not used outside of India, while others utilize the same words but have a very different context.
Where did the unusual words and phrases of Indian English come from? Here is a brief history: The English language arrived in India in the early 1600s with the start of British colonization. Initially, Christian missionaries were the only English teachers around. Over the course of the next two centuries, English increasingly became the language of higher education, government administration, the media and the social elite. After Indian independence in 1947, India declared Hindi its official language. However, with 18 other national languages and hundreds of different dialects, English remained a popular second language. It was seen as a language of opportunity for those seeking social mobility, while simultaneously serving as a common language for Indians from different regions who spoke mutually unintelligible languages.
After nearly 400 years of use on the subcontinent, Indian English has morphed into its own unique dialect. Here is our brief introduction to words and phrases in Indian English that might look familiar, but have very different meanings.
Words or phrases that have different meanings in Indian English
- At the rate = the @ sign. Example: My mail ID is Sirena at the rate Morningside dot com.
- Belong to = am from. Example: Where are you from? I belong to Delhi.
- Crib = complain. Example: She won’t stop cribbing about her mother-in-law.
- Doubt = question. Example: Please Miss, I have a doubt.
- Flick = steal. Example: Someone flicked my phone on the train.
- Good name = first name
- Got fired = got yelled at
- Graduation = studied for a degree. Example: I did my graduation at the University of Delhi.
- Mail = email
- Mail ID = email address
- Mug up = cram or study intensively. Example: Tonight, I need to mug up for my final exam.
- Out of station = out of town
- Passed out = graduated. Example: I passed out of college.
- Saloon = hair salon or barbershop
- Visiting card = business card
Words or phrases unique to Indian English
- Airdash = to take a quick (sometimes emergency) flight
- Batchmate = a member of the same graduating class
- Convent-educated = educated in English (from when teaching used to be done by clergy members)
- Cooling glass = sunglasses
- Eating my brain = really bothering me
- Foreign-returned = having returned to India after studying or living abroad
- Freeship = full scholarship or payment for university
- Godown = a warehouse
- Incharge = a manager or supervisor
- Level best = very best effort
- Petrol bunk = gas station
- Prepone = reschedule something to an earlier date
- Rowdy-sheeter = a person who has a criminal record
- Sitting on my head = stressing me out
- Unmotorable = a road that isn’t suitable for use by motor vehicles