By Sanjay Saigal
When I wrote about a few Indian English words useful to Americans, I knew I was condemning myself to several d'oh moments. I was right. As soon as the post appeared online, I thought of words I should have included. Other suggestions arrived by email. But most were either orphaned Britishisms (such as dickey, boot, and stepney; and donkey's years), or words considered archaic in America (such as fortnight and alms), or outright Hinglish.
Setting aside those undoubtedly interesting examples for now, let me present three more candidates:
- Batchmate differs from classmate and schoolmate. A classmate is definitely a batchmate, but not vice versa. Batchmates graduated (or perhaps started) together at one institution, but they needn't have taken the same classes. Schoolmates were merely contemporaries at school. Note that batchmates isn't limited to school. One may have batchmates from a scouting troop, a military regiment, or even a company.
- Eggetarian is someone who eats no meat, but says yes to dairy and eggs. In the US its ungainly equivalent - ovo-vegetarian - is more common. Ovo-vegetarian should be discarded on purely aesthetic grounds. We're talking everyday eating, not a science experiment.
- Mugging, refers to rote memorization right before an examination. (It may involve pulling an all nighter, or not.) Right now my wife is mugging for a medical certification exam. In the recent past I have mugged for FAA pilot certification written tests. I imagine President Obama mugs the night before meeting another world leader. While the word has an existing meaning in American English, I see no reason why it should not prosper with two; the context will disambiguate. Note that swotting and cramming are alternatives still in use among groups previously ruled by the British. But to me, both carry a posh connotation that makes it less amenable to Americanization.
A clarification for anyone feeling the slightest bit inflamed by my desire to "improve" American English. In my view American English, being the most compact dialect (my photo of a London traffic sign shows that British English is above such grubbiness) of the language, is as perfect a lingua franca candidate as there is.
One can as easily list Americanisms that would improve Indian English. For instance, consider the American use of "school" to encompass all educational settings. Indian English forces you to choose between school (until the 12th grade), college (undergraduate degree), or university (graduate school) even when the distinction is meaningless or distracting. But that's a whole other discussion perhaps better left for whenever Jim Fallows decides to write another book and issues a new batch of golden tickets. I'm grateful to him for the opportunity to visit with you.
Sanjay Saigal is founder and CEO of Mudrika Education, Inc., with offices in Silicon Valley, CA and Delhi, India.