6 Indian usages of English I can’t understand…

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”. sunil@email.com 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

14 thoughts on “6 Indian usages of English I can’t understand…

  1. These small things go unnoticed in our daily lives..but, very true.
    and am sure there are much more of these if given careful attention.

    Cool writing Sunil :-)


  2. What a lovely compilation of oh-so-nice observations! Plus your writing made it all the more interesting. Way to go!


  3. wow..!!!
    i was so embarrassed when i read about “@” but it is so true…
    i really enjoyed reading you.
    hope to read more of u

    regards purnima

  4. Hay Sunil,
    You know the “disu” is shortened form for “deceive” so in expansion it meant – I deceived the class today- I know a strange way to express – I bunked the class today. It was one those gems we used in school like this one – “I grumbled to my senior” – as phrase used to describe talking back with supposed disrespect and being disobedient.

    And the two into two is a gem, all over india in most schools multiplication tables are taught that way while in the UK/Ireland it always is two by two.

    Also, Sunil, may be you might clarify this for me, I haven’t got an answer for years now -
    Is this usage correct – “I reached safe ” or I reached safely” The reason I am asking this is in many of those UPSE competitive exams – the english exams, the usage “I reached safe ” was always deemed incorrect and the explanation given in Competition success review (remember that?) magazine was “there is so such thing as safely”.

    And then this one, should it be “Flammable chemical inside ” or should it be “Inflammable chemical inside” , in India the latter would be correct usage, but it Ireland it the the former, that’s used by most people and on signage ? So what is the right way ?


  5. Sunil, A correction to my post above :
    These lines :

    the english exams, the usage “I reached safe ” was always deemed incorrect and the explanation given in Competition success review (remember that?) magazine was “there is so such thing as safely”.

    Should be :

    the english exams, the usage “I reached safely ” was always deemed incorrect and the explanation given in Competition success review (remember that?) magazine was “there is so such thing as safely”.

  6. Reddy,

    1. Deceive and grumble wer amazing creations and we loved using them.

    2. Safe is used as a noun (Let’s blow the safe) and adjective (The boy is safe). In the usage you have mentioned above, an adverb should be used: I reached safely. Safely is an adverb. (reach is a verb). So I would say that “I reached safe” is wrong! Though I don’t remember coming across that usage.

    3. The other example is very very unique in the English language, for flammable and inflammable are synonyms! English is truly a very funny language.

    Hope that answers your queries.


  7. too good. @ one is something that bugs me no end. and there are people i have tried explaining it to,but then there are those who always know better!!!

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