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Assimilated into English


The contact between two different cultures is one of the most challenging and stimulating causes of the evolution of a language. During the British imperial rule of India, English vocabulary expanded and enriched as words passed into common English from Hindi and Sanskrit, one of the oldest languages in the world. Some of the words assimilated into English from the Indian lexicon were related to things or aspects of life in India. For example, ‘jungle’ from ‘jangala’ (meaning wilderness or forest), or ‘typhoon’ to describe a large and destructive storm that Britons were not accustomed to.
The noun ‘shampoo’ comes from the Hindi ‘champo’ (a head or hair massage); ‘pyjamas’ from the Hindi ‘paijama’ (meaning ‘leg garment’); ‘mogul’ (meaning a rich or powerful person, a magnate) from the Sanskrit word ‘moghul’ and ‘thug’ —a synonym of ‘criminal’— has its origins in Indian culture. In 17th century to 19th century Indian society, a ‘thuggee’ was a gang who robbed and murdered travellers.
Words referring to the ancient spiritual practice of yoga (meaning ‘to join’ or ‘to unite’) and spiritual life, like ‘ashram’ (a religious retreat), ‘kundalini’ (literally ‘coiled snake’, it refers to feminine energy), ‘mantra’, ‘namaste’ (Indian greeting meaning ‘I bow to you’), ‘nirvana’ or ‘guru’ were incorporated from Sanskrit too. These days, many such words are familiar to us as Eastern philosophy is in vogue in Western countries. However, during British colonisation yoga was actually considered threatening and was banned.