[ 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.
Informal. characteristic of or suitable for a coolie: working for coolie wages.
Words nearby coolie
Origin of coolie
1545–55; < Urdu kūlī < 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. 2019
British Dictionary definitions for coolie
/ (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