Useful Words From Indian English, Ctd

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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.LondonRoadSign.jpg

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.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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