English Words Derived from Hindi

There are many words that exist in English whose origin on the Indian subcontinent is clear. Words like chutney and yoga are part of everyday life for many people in the English-speaking world, and they encounter these words in an Eastern context. But the influence of Hindi on English spreads far beyond that sitar seen in the guitar shop or the documentary on the 1960s. Words completely removed from that milieu -- like cot , jungle and pundit -- are Hindi in origin as well. Here are 15 English words of Hindi origin and their etymologies.

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. cushy
    not burdensome or demanding
    Silicon Valley’s biggest companies have long offered cushy perks to attract top talent and keep workers happy logging scores of hours on the job.
    —Seattle Times Oct 14, 2014
    From Hindi kush for "pleasant, healthy, happy."
  2. dungaree
    a coarse durable twill-weave cotton fabric
    Some wore white hospital garb; others came off work gangs wearing blue dungarees.
    —The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
    From dungri "coarse calico", ultimately derived from the name of a village which is now part of Bombay.
  3. bandana
    a large and brightly colored handkerchief
    Hermès is offering silk bandanas that look like the cotton ones the plumber wears.
    —Forbes Sep 8, 2014
    From bandhnu, a method of dyeing where you bond the cloth and then dye it, similar to tie-dye.
  4. chit
    the bill in a restaurant
    The chit fund, or “kitty party” as it is commonly called, is an informal savings group popular among Indian women, particularly in the south.
    —Economist Nov 2, 2012
    From chitthi, "letter, note." This word, which occurs in both Hindi and Marathi, another Indo-Aryan language, can be traced back to the Sanskrit root chitra-s, which means "distinctively marked" and is the same root that ultimately leads to cheetah.
  5. punch
    an iced mixed drink usually containing alcohol and prepared for multiple servings; normally served in a punch bowl
    However, Hawaiian Punch volumes fell by only 2% this quarter, limiting the overall decline in juices and subsequently in non-carbonated beverages for the company.
    —Forbes Oct 27, 2014
    This is a controversial derivation, having to do with the pronounciation of the vowel, but one theory holds that punch comes from Hindi panch, "five" a reference to the number of ingredients in the original recipe for the beverage.
  6. cummerbund
    a broad pleated sash worn at the waist with a tuxedo
    The remaining portion of the shirt’s front as well as the trousers’ waistband is therefore discreetly covered by a waistcoat or a cummerbund.
    —Slate Feb 26, 2014
    From Hindi kamarband "loin band", this word shares an older root with bandana above, from the sense of "binding."
  7. sari
    a draped dress worn primarily by Hindu women
    They are all dressed in the traditional plain white sari except for Annapurna, who is in blue.
    —BBC (Oct 8, 2014
    From sari, "garment, petticoat."
  8. pundit
    someone who has been admitted to membership in a field
    Much of what the pundits talk about – especially pairings – probably doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.
    —Forbes Oct 22, 2014
    From payndit, "learned man, master, teacher."
  9. shampoo
    the act of washing your hair with shampoo
    The tea tree shampoo I use helps with the itching, but my scalp is left very dry after using the shampoo on a daily basis.
    —Seattle Times Sep 26, 2014
    From Hindi champo, a command form of champna, "to press, knead the muscles." This massage-like sense of shampoo was the meaning in English as well, for about 100 years, until the "wash the hair" sense began to dominate around 1860.
  10. loot
    goods or money obtained illegally
    He was convicted of two violent "takeovers" and two attempted heists that garnered nearly a combined $600,000 in loot.
    —Chicago Tribune Oct 21, 2014
    From Hindi lut, "booty, stolen property."
  11. toddy
    a mixed drink made of liquor and water with sugar and spices and served hot
    The toddy would ferment during the day and become a bitter and strong drink - rather like wine - by the evening.
    —BBC Aug 22, 2014
    From Hindi tari, "palm sap". The drink was originally made with fermented palm sap. The "d" heard in place of "r" is a common mistake people listening to Hindi speakers make, and the "o" vowel is an alteration that outlasted the original "a" vowel form.
  12. juggernaut
    a massive inexorable force
    For decades, the Chinese economy has been a juggernaut growing many times faster than its western rivals.
    —BBC Oct 22, 2014
    From jagganath, "lord of the world." A juggernaut was originally a huge wagon adorned with an image of the god Krishna, and one of Krishna's titles is "lord of the world."
  13. jungle
    an impenetrable equatorial forest
    But Phoebe still trekked to Amazonian rainforests and African jungles, gaining confidence and going further into the wilds.
    —Time Oct 22, 2014
    From jangal, which means both "desert" and "forest", the common denominator being the sense of both as "wasteland", places of "uncultivated ground."
  14. seersucker
    a light puckered fabric that is usually striped
    Black Fleece, Browne's collaborative collection with Brooks Brothers, included a pale brown seersucker inspired by the hues found in Kodachrome film.
    —Los Angeles Times Sep 12, 2014
    From Hindi sirsakar, which is itself a corruption of Persian shir o shakkar, which refers to the striped cloth but literally means "milk and sugar" which plays upon the smoothness of milk and the grit of sugar to describe the alternating fabrics used.
  15. cot
    a small bed that folds up for storage or transport
    Many travelers stranded overnight slept on cots provided by the airport, in scenes reminiscent of winter storm disruptions.
    —Seattle Times Sep 27, 2014
    From khat, "couch, hammock."

Sign up, it's free!

Whether you're a student, an educator, or a lifelong learner, Vocabulary.com can put you on the path to systematic vocabulary improvement.