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Mulligatawny soup, Anyone?

Tamil has added a lot of color to the English lexicon. This article takes you through a list is of some words in English and their origins from Tamil
As with any language, English has seen its vocabulary grow by leaps and bounds since the early times. The latest edition of the Oxford Dictionary lists around 301100 main word listings along with a equal number of derivatives, phrases and combinations which only goes to prove the starting line above. English has spread out around the globe and it has changed to incorporate the cultures and languages it has touched upon. Now comes the question- “How much has English been influenced by Indian Languages?” Well, if you have spent some time on the net before you came across this, by now you would be straightening your pajamas, puffing away on your beloved cheroot, biting into that juicy orange by your table, or running your hands on your shampooed hair wondering where this is going. Ok, before you start tightening that coir around your neck trying to make sense of all this, the words find their origins in Indian shores. Let us take a look at some common English words and trace their roots to one Indian Language – Tamil.

Of Origins and Languages – Well the Queen's Language for now.
Cheroot - Kick back those weary legs, plunk down on your sofa and puff away on that big woody cigar with a cool glass of wine. The Cheroot is one make of cigar which does not taper down at the ends. This makes for easy and affordable rolling of the Cheroot. The word 'Cheroot', comes from the French 'cheroute'. This word was an influx into the French Vocabulary from the Tamil word 'churuttu' or 'suruttu' meaning 'rolled'.

Mulligatawny - Thinking of grandma's spicy chicken soup? Although the Mulligatawny soup is a concoction primarily made from chicken, it comes from the more humble 'rasam' of South India. The word Mulligatawny comes from the Tamil word 'Milagutanni' - 'Milagu' meaning pepper and 'tanni', which means water. Milagutanni actually just means pepper water. Searching for your recipe book? Yes siree, pepper is also there in Mulligatawny soup.

Catamaran - Think of water sports and this light weight watercraft pops right in. Catamaran also comes from Tamil word 'Kattumaram'. Earliest boats were made by tying two or more pieces of wood or trees together. 'Kattu' in Tamil means 'tied' or 'to tie'. 'Maram' means tree, which gives 'Kattumaram' simply meaning Trees tied together.

Corundum - Corundum is the next hardest metal to diamond. When listing the most famous gemstones, Corundum rarely gets a mention. The red corundum is called the ruby, and in all other colors it is called the sapphire. Corundum basically gets its name from the Tamil word for the ruby – 'Kuruntham' which again might have come from the Sanskrit kuruvinda.

Pariah – The word Pariah comes from the name of a drummer community called 'Paraiyan' in the backward parts of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The members of this tribe were the Untouchables, per the Caste system prevalent in India for a long time. Hence this name has come to be a generalization for all social outcasts. The word Paraiyan in turn comes from the word 'Parai' meaning drum. 'Paraiyan' also means to say. In olden days important messages were sent through a man with a drum. The drum was to attract attention so he could deliver the message to the pubic. Hence drumming and communication came to be associated together.

Vetiver – This one might interest the ladies. Any one in tune with perfumes and fragrances might have heard of this name. Vetiver is the name of a type of grass whose roots give out an aromatic fragrance. The word comes from the Tamil 'Vettiver'. 'Vetti' means to cut or dig up. 'Ver' means root, whih gives 'Vettiver' which means root that has been dug up. An alternate meaning can also be derived – 'Vetti' meaning useless and 'ver' meaning root. But then we guess perfume didn't catch on until much later, when they realized that the root wasn't useless after all.

Anaconda – The name brings back the movie starring Jennifer Lopez doesn't it? Anaconda supposedly stemmed from the Tamil compound phrase aana-kolra meaning 'elephant killer'. Another lineage is from the Sinhalese 'henakanday', meaning 'whip snake', though most linguists believe it is the former.

This list is of some words of the English lexicon which are borrowed from Tamil, to just name a few…

Some of these words are easily recognizable as Indian words. There are others, though a part of modern day spoken English, which are seldom recognized as being of Indian origin. Most of these words were assimilated during the later part of the 16th to the 20th century, when the British were following an aggressive imperial policy in the Indian subcontinent.

A comprehensive list of words in the English lexicon which are borrowed from the Indian languages is worth a read. Hindi and Sanskrit have played their part in shaping the English language. It is a feel good factor for any Indian to know that English has an Indian influence!
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