/ (ˈdeɪsiː) /
Save This Word!

adjective Hinglish
indigenous or locala desi buda
authenticdesi music
"Is" it time for a new quiz? "Are" you ready? Then prove your excellent skills on using "is" vs. "are."
Question 1 of 7
IS and ARE are both forms of which verb?

Word Origin for desi

C21: Hindi, from Sanskrit deśa a country
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


What does Desi mean?

Desi is sometimes used as an identifying term for a person who is of South Asian descent or who traces their heritage to the Indian subcontinent.

Its exact meaning and implications vary from person to person. Some use it as a positive self-identifier, while others view it as too limiting or even disparaging.

For many, Desi is used to indicate a South Asian heritage. When used in this sense, Desi typically means that a person can trace their descent to one or more South Asian countries, including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Nepal, and Bhutan.

Some people use Desi to indicate that they view their identity as being rooted in the pan-ethnic culture and history of South Asia, without reference to a specific nationality. Some use Desi as a way to identify as being part of the South Asian diaspora—those of South Asian descent who now live in other places. Desi is used in the term Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (abbreviated as APIDA), which is often used with the intent to be more explicitly inclusive of South Asians than other similar terms, such as Asian American Pacific Islander (abbreviated as AAPI).

However, not everyone who has South Asian heritage identifies as Desi.

The term is sometimes viewed as being Indian-centric. Sometimes, Desi is thought to be even more narrow, referring only to or primarily being used by people of northern Indian descent. In this way, the word is sometimes thought to exclude those from southern or central India or those from other parts of South Asia.

Within South Asia, particularly within India among speakers of Hindi, Desi can be used to mean “local” or “native.” This use is sometimes extended to refer to a person as being rural and unsophisticated (somewhat similar to terms like hick and country bumpkin).

In general, Desi can be used as either an adjective or a noun. For example, a group of people may be referred to as Desis or a person may be referred to as a member of the Desi community. Sometimes, it’s left lowercase.

Example: I prefer to identify as Desi American, which I think describes my identity better than “Asian American.”

Where does Desi come from?

The first records of the use of the word Desi in English come from the 1800s. It comes from the Hindi desī, meaning “rural,” “indigenous,” or “from the country.” This Hindi word ultimately comes from the Sanskrit deśa, meaning “a country.”

The Hindi origin of Desi may contribute to its association in some contexts with northern India, where Hindi is one of the predominant languages and where the word is more likely to be used than in southern parts of the country.

Did you know ... ?

What are some words that often get used in discussing Desi?

How is Desi used in real life?

Some people use the word Desi to self-identify as being of South Asian descent, while others view it as negative or too narrow or avoid using it for other reasons.


How to use desi in a sentence