English Expressions From India

English is a major lingua franca, but that doesn’t mean native speakers of other languages around the world don’t put their own spin on English.

Generally, if English has been introduced into a community (through colonization, missionary work, what have you), that community will find completely unique ways to use and reinterpret it, to make it “local.” 

India is a top contender for using English in the most creative ways. We love these Indian English expressions so much, we have one question for the country: Can we use them, too?

Do the needful

Let’s say a mother in India has repeatedly asked her teenaged son to pick up his smelly socks, clean his room, and do his homework. The son knows what he needs to do and Mom is losing her voice. What does she say instead? “Son, do the needful.

In India, do the needful is a succinct way to summarize a series of tasks that is already known, without having to list them over and over and risk losing one’s mind. Instead of telling your boyfriend a-million-and-one times to put the toilet seat down: “Do the needful.”


If people “pass the time” doing something, it’s only logical for that to be called a timepass, right?

That’s exactly what people in India think, and we agree. Only, they qualify timepass to mean anything that is frivolous or superficial. Spending time reading War and Peace is NOT a timepass; that’s heroic. Binging Real Housewives of Anywhere is big-time timepass.


Mugging is a slang term young people in India use to describe intense memorization of academic material.

So, instead of saying cram—where you try to stuff as many facts into your head as possible—you have a word, mugging, with a couple figurative possibilities: attacking the material for all its worth, or (more likely) feeling like a frantic victim after your brain is ripped out of your skull. Maybe some students in India even claim to the authorities (aka teachers) after they’ve (been) mugged (robbed of a brain) that they can’t take the test. We’re starting to get it ….

My teacher is sitting on my head

Mugging of the criminal or academic variety is never fun. In Indian schools, teachers who put students in the position of mugging for exams are definitely contributing to their pupils’ stress-levels. In addition to saying “My teacher is stressing me out,” Indian students have the brilliant expression: My teacher is sitting on my head. This is a direct translation of the colloquial Hindi/Hinglish saying, “Mera teacher mere sir pe Betha hai.”

My friend is eating my brain

Another perfect expression translated from Hindi is My friend is eating my brain (“Mera friend mera dimag kha raha hai”). If you’re trying to mug (cram) for exams so your teacher won’t sit on your head (stress you out) about a failing grade, the last thing you want is for your friend to eat your brain.

That would happen if you were in the presence of a friend who talked nonstop and was driving you directly to Crazytown.   

Do one thing

In India, if a person struggling to study is unfortunate enough to have a friend eat their brain, they wouldn’t hesitate to say, “Do one thing: shut up.” Another direct Hindi translation (from “ek kaam kar”), do one thing is used in a variety of contexts when the speaker wants someone to take their advice.

Rest is fine

Another helpful summarizer is the phrase rest is fine, which basically means “I would tell you everything that I’ve been doing, thinking, and feeling the last [however long it’s been since I’ve seen you], but we all know life’s too short to go into all that, however, since you asked, I’m doing well and so is everybody else you might be wondering about.” ‘Nuff said.

Rowdy sheeter

To Western ears, a rowdy sheeter could be a really exuberant bed-linen salesperson or a crazy party where everyone sheets the house instead of TPs it….

But, in India, a rowdy sheeter is a term used in local papers to describe someone accustomed to run-ins with the law. 


Not the video game … a vestige of British rule, fortnightly is a splendid word to make “two weeks” sound like the most exquisite period of time.

If Dr. Oz’s 2-Week Rapid Weight Loss plan is impossible to complete—two weeks?!—, replace the offending time period with fortnightly, and suddenly, two weeks isn’t long enough. Worried what your soon-to-be ex-boss will say when you quit? Give her your fortnightly notice and her reference will outshine the sun.

Kindly adjust

Whenever you find yourself packed like a sardine in the elevator, on the subway, or in the club—take a page from India (population 1.3 billion) and tell everyone around you to kindly adjust. In other words, “Listen, there’s no getting around the fact that there’s no getting around me, because we’re all crammed in here together so kindly adjust your mental and physical attitude accordingly.”


Don’t knock this so-called ungrammatical cousin of postpone until you’ve tried it!

In India, prepone means exactly what you think it means: moving something on the schedule forward instead of pushing it back. So, if your parents are coming in a day earlier than planned, they’re preponing. When you’re fed up with telling people on the crammed subway to “kindly adjust,” by all means prepone that Maui vacation! 
Really, when it comes down to it, adding prepone to your lexicon means you’ll probably get a lot more done!

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