Not Saussure

November 8, 2006

Why is all this tamasha about Hinglish?

Filed under: Linguistics — notsaussure @ 6:12 pm

Only two years behind the Christian Science Monitor, the BBC has discovered Hinglish, asking

Are you a “badmash”? And if you had to get somewhere in a hurry, would you make an “airdash”? Maybe you should be at your desk working, instead you’re reading this as a “timepass”.


A dictionary of the hybrid language has been gathered by Baljinder Mahal, a Derby-based teacher and published this week as The Queen’s Hinglish.

I certainly intend to get a copy of the book; I recall about 30 years ago my first wife, a Ugandan Asian, and her brothers having fun with Hinglish; for reasons I don’t quite understand, Hindi words drop very well into English sentences (and vice versa), usually with great comic effect. I seem to recall that it was particularly popular in the gossip columns of Bombay filmi mags, like Stardust; these, I seem to recall, were written in deliberately absurd combination of the two languages — though I have to say that when we once visited one of her uncles in what I refuse to call anything other than Bombay (when I’m writing in English, anyway), a Guju paesa-wallah (Stardust for Gujerati money man in the Bollywood — now Mollywood? — movie business), everyone in the industry there seemed to talk that way.

As the BBC notes, this, of course, is nothing new; English and Hindi have been getting inextricably intertwined for the last few hundred years, as commemorated by Hobson Jobson, a Victorian glossary of Anglo-Indian words, available online, and in which I’ve just (while checking the URL) made the most delightful discovery.

In the introduction, we read

Of words that seem to have been admitted to full franchise, we may give examples in curry, toddy, veranda, cheroot, loot, nabob, teapoy, sepoy, cowry; and of others familiar enough to the English ear, though hardly yet received into citizenship, compound, batta, pucka, chowry, baboo, mahout, aya, nautch, first-chop, competition-wallah, griffin, &c.

Griffin rather surprised me, since I was certain that the heraldic beast wasn’t borrowed from India. So I looked it up in Hobson Jobson and discover, pleasingly appropriately, to my mind, given the name of the leader of the BNP,

GRIFFIN, GRIFF, s.; GRIFFISH, adj. One newly arrived in India, and unaccustomed to Indian ways and peculiarities; a Johnny Newcome.

One question, though; the Amazon blurb for The Queen’s Hinglish begins,

“The Queen’s Hinglish” is a fun and fascinating look at Hinglish: an important story in language change in the 21st century. Whether you’re gora, desi, tik, or angrez, let “Collins” be your guide to the biggest, boldest, fastest-changing language on earth.

I know what they all mean, but 20 years ago, at least, my understanding was that ‘gora’ is not a particularly polite term; a bit like calling someone a ‘wog’ or whatever. Certainly his parents were furious with my wife’s teenage brother when he — jokingly — called me a gora, and she wasn’t too amused, either. Presumably it’s lost its offensive connotations, though; can anyone enlighten me?

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