When my father was posted in Deolali Camp, an officer told me, “There’s the right way, there’s the wrong way… then there’s the Army way!” Likewise, when it comes to English usage, “There’s the British way, there’s the American way… then there’s the Indian way!”
Here are 6 usages of English that are unique to India…
Lifer for life sentence: A life sentence is shortened to life. A person serving a life sentence is called a lifer. It’s as simple as that. Once when I was on a night shift in the Hindustan Times newspaper, the PTI news agency copy was headlined “Man gets lifer” instead of “Man gets life”. When I pointed out the mistake to my shift head, I was curtly told, “Who knows more, you or PTI?” So the mistake went in the front page. Slowly all the papers started carrying it and today it’s an honourable Indianism.
Note: No army can withstand the strength of a mistake whose time has come
Kindly do the needful: What does that mean? How exactly “needful”? Needful for whom? What if: What is actually needed is that your request be ignored. (What if: What is exactly needed is that you need a kick in the pants for making such a stupid request in the first place?). “Needful supplies”, “needful money”, …are hardly used, you just “do” the needful in India.
Sunil “at the rate of” email.com: The @ symbol has two meanings. The first is “at the rate of”, which is used in accounting in the form of “10 apples @ Rs 10 = Rs 100”. The second is simply “at”. firstname.lastname@example.org means sunil “at” email.com. Yet, people still continue to use “at the rate of” in their email IDs. Think over it, you sound like a commodity with a price on your head.
Shoppee: In the olden days it was called shoppe, but pronounced as shop, so it understandably got shortened to shop. I think Indians think it was pronounced as shop-eeee, so shoppekeepers write it as Shoppee.
German Shepherd and Alsatian are different: A German Shepherd is a type of dog. During World War I, it was renamed Alsatian Wolf Dog in England due to anti-German sentiment. In time, “Wolf Dog” was dropped and the usage spread to the Commonwealth (of which we are a part). So they are basically synonyms (something like the British versus American usage). However in India, I’m told by dog owners, “No this is not a German Shepherd, but an Alsatian.” (Or the other way round) In various versions, one is supposed to be blacker than the other or larger than the other or…
Two into two is four: How many times does two go into two? Once, right? Then how in heaven’s name is “two into two four”?
Then there’s the good ole good name (got from shubh naam) and creations like airdash and prepone. In my school, to bunk a class was to “dishu” it, whatever that meant. “I dishued class today” “Why did you dishu?” Nobody knows how that originated. Even the teachers used it! Another teacher used to ask us to open the windows to let the climate in. The same guy called the physics department his residence. So I guess every school, college and neighbourhood in India must have dozens of such gems tucked away.
Which brings me to the “The Indian English Snowflake Rule”…
Just as no two snowflakes are alike, no two Indians have the same English.
© Sunil Rajguru