English Words That Came From Hindi And Urdu

How many words from Hindi and Urdu do you know? Well, if you’re one of the approximately 70 million speakers of Urdu and 425 million of Hindi, then, well, you know a lot—and that’s only counting native speakers. Millions more speak Urdu and Hindi as a second language all around the globe, making them, combined, one of the most spoken languages. 

But even if you don’t speak Hindi or Urdu, you actually use more words that derive, along one route or another, from these sister languages than you realize! So put down your your cup of chai (which means “tea,” so you really don’t need to say “chai tea”!) and read on.

WATCH: What Are The Most Fun-to-say Words In Different Languages?

What are Urdu and Hindi?

Many English speakers may not know they are using words that come from Hindi and Urdu. Many—let’s be honest—may not know, exactly, what these languages are.

Modern Hindi and Urdu both derive from a common language called Hindustani, a language of South Asia used as what’s known as a lingua franca in Northern India and Pakistan. Both Hindi and Urdu (and their parent, Hindustani) are what linguists call Indic or Indo-Aryan languages, which are part of a larger language family known as Indo-European. That means languages ranging from Irish to Greek to, yes, English all share a common ancestor, as unrelated as they may seem.

The development of modern Hindi and Urdu are complex, their differences developing in large part based on religion. When colonial British India was split into India and Pakistan in 1947, Hindi became an official language of India (a majority Hindu country) and Urdu, of Pakistan (majority Muslim). Other major differences between Hindi and Urdu are that Hindi is written in a script called Devanagari with many words from Sanskrit while Urdu is written in a modified Arabic script with many words from Persian and Arabic.

Another major commonality of Hindi and Urdu is that a lot of the words English borrowed from these languages were the result, lest we forget, of British colonialism and imperialism. But for all the complexity, past and present, of Hindi and Urdu, many of the words that made their way into English are, well, surprisingly common and everyday.

Here are 11 English words that derive from Hindi and Urdu. (Keep in mind that the two languages are so closely intertwined, there may exist a version of each word in both.)

shampoo

Yep, that shower staple that keeps your hair and scalp clean has Hindi–Urdu origins. First evidence of the word shampoo can be found around 1755–65. It comes from the word champo, meaning “to massage,” which is a form of the Hindi word cāmpnā, “to press.”

jungle

This word, which we use to describe “a wild land overgrown with dense vegetation” stems from the Hindi word jaṅgal. That word in turn came from the Sanskrit word jaṅgala meaning “rough, waterless place.” First evidence of it in the English language dates back to 1770–80.

thug

While the term thug has evolved over the years in use and meaning, first evidence of the word is found around 1800–10. It comes from the Hindi word thag, which means “rogue, cheat.”

pajamas

While these days you may stay in them all day, this word typically used to refer to night clothes. First evidence of it in the English language can be found around 1870–75. It’s a variant of the Urdu and Hindi word pāyjāma, which stems from the Persian words pāy, meaning “leg” and  jāma, meaning “garment.” 

veranda 

Sipping a little something (sweet tea, perhaps) on a veranda seems like such a Southern thing, but the origins of the word aren’t. It, in fact, comes from the Hindi words baraṇḍā and barāmdā, which stem from the Persian phrase bar āmadaḥ, meaning “coming out.” It may ultimately derive from the Spanish word baranda, which means “railing, balustrade.” 

pundit

These days, there are self-proclaimed pundits aplenty, particularly in the political arena. The term, which dates back to 1665–75, stems from the Hindi word paṇḍit, which comes from the Sanskrit word paṇḍita meaning “learned man.” How learned some of our pundits today are is up for debate.

juggernaut 

Today, we use this word meaning “any large, overpowering, destructive force” to describe everything from COVID-19 to an opposing football team. Marvel Comics even bestowed it as the name of one of its characters. First evidence of the word, however, dates back to around 1630–40. It stems from the Hindi word Jagannāth, which comes from the Sanskrit word Jagannātha, meaning “lord of the world.”

loot

While it can be used in various forms, at its root, the word loot is used to describe “spoils or plunder taken by pillaging.” Looters loot during times of chaos, such as after a natural disaster or during war, but we also use the word in a more positive sense, such as when we refer to the candy kids get on Halloween as their loot … though dentists may disagree with how positive that really is. 

First evidence of the word is found in the 1780s. It stems from the Hindi word lūṭ, which is equivalent to the Sanskrit word lotra, loptra meaning “booty, spoil.”

khaki

The noun (and adjective) khaki also entered the English from Persian via Urdu. In Persian, khākī means “dusty.” Khaki, of course, can refer to both a color and a fabric in English.

punch

Here’s a fun party fact to pack away for the next time you want to make conversation around the punch bowl. The word for this festive drink is said to stem from the Hindi word panch, which means “five,” as it was originally made up of five ingredients, probably alcohol, sugar, lemon, water, and tea or spices. First evidence of the word dates back to 1625–35.

cushy

If something involves “little effort for ample rewards” or is “soft and comfortable,” it’s cushy. This word is partly a borrowing from Urdu (ḵušī) and partly from Persian. It is first recorded in English relatively recently: 1900–15.

And now that you’ve added some word origin facts to your vocab (not always a cushy task), it’s time to give yourself a break. Go ahead and sip a little punch on your veranda; we’ll be lounging in pajamas!

 

Ready to take your vocabulary on even more globetrotting adventures?

Make a virtual visit to the Philippines with the English words that originate from there, or ruminate over the many words from South African English that make it unique from American English

 

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