coolie

[ koo-lee ]
/ ˈku li /

noun Disparaging and Offensive.

an unskilled laborer, especially formerly in China and India.
an unskilled laborer employed cheaply, especially one brought from Asia.
a contemptuous term used to refer to an Asian, especially an Indian living in South Africa.

adjective

Informal. characteristic of or suitable for a coolie: working for coolie wages.

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Also coo·ly .

Origin of coolie

First recorded in 1545–55; from Urdu kūlī, from Tamil kūli “hire, hireling”

usage note for coolie

Both meanings of “unskilled Asian laborer” are found almost exclusively in historical contexts, suggesting imperialistic exploitation of these workers. But coolie is still current as an insulting term used to refer to a person of Asian descent, especially in South Africa.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

British Dictionary definitions for coolie

coolie

cooly

/ (ˈkuːlɪ) /

noun plural -ies

a cheaply hired unskilled Oriental labourer
derogatory an Indian living in South Africa

Word Origin for coolie

C17: from Hindi kulī, probably of Dravidian origin; related to Tamil kūli hire, hireling
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012