English: How we imported words from Asia

Posted on by Mike Evans

The English language is full of words such as pyjama, bungalow, veranda and shampoo that were imported from Asia, particularly from Indian sources. Often the origin has been completely forgotten. The trend started in the late 16th century with words such as calico, chinz and gingham, but reached its zenith in the 19th century glory days of the Raj. Expats returned to Britain full of strange expressions that we now take for granted. Today the BBC highlights the Hobson-Jobson, a colloquial term for the fascinating Anglo-Indian dictionary produced by Col. Henry Yule and AC Burnell between 1872 and 1886. It’s full of gems, including the expression “I don’t give a dam” which is alleged to refer to an ancient Indian coin, the damri, that had an infinitesimal value. I’ve always thought it was “I don’t give a damn” but it seems I got it wrong. Such things fascinate me. 

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