Published: 28th February 2017
The great Indian English expressions
We take a peek into the common expressions that we Indians use in our daily lives
During my first visit to London in 2008, when I was the editor of the English Language Teaching Contacts Scheme (ELTeCS) India and Sri Lanka e-newsletter, I along with some of my friends from the British Council went to a restaurant for dinner. The person sitting next to me at the table was Mr Roy Cross, Senior Adviser, Partnerships & Evaluation, British Council. While having a chat with him I happened to use the expression ‘every nook and corner’. “Every nook and corner? It must be a typical Indian English expression,” he quipped with a smile. “Really? What is the correct expression?” I asked him out of curiosity. He replied, “Every nook and cranny.” The expression means ‘every part of a place’. The Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary has labelled the phrase ‘every nook and corner’ as Indian English.
- You will find my kids’ toys in every nook and cranny of our house.
- They have stuffed every nook and cranny of the house with magazines and books.
There are many Indian English expressions which have amused native speakers of English. Here are a few of such expressions: teacher sitting on my head, doing my graduation, eating my brain, What’s your good name?, backside…, etc.
Look at this conversation between two people, Tom and Ram:
Tom: Where shall we have our meeting?
Ram: We can have our meeting in the backside.
Tom: Backside? Are you kidding?
Ram: I mean it. The backside is very broad and beautiful.
Tom: Whose backside are you talking about?
Ram: My backside.
Had Ram known the meaning of the word ‘backside’, he would not have used it in his conversation with Tom. ‘Backside’ refers to one’s buttocks. In Indian English, the word ‘backside’ is used to refer to the back part of something as in the examples below:
Sir, can I write the answer on the backside (of the answer sheet)?
Keep your bicycle on the backside (of our house).
Look at this part of a dialogue between an American and an Indian:
Indian: Good morning, sir.
American: Good morning.
Indian: Sir, may I know your good name?
American: My good name? I have a name but I don’t know whether it is a good name or a bad name.
In India it is very common to ask someone’s name with this question, “What is your good name?” or “May I know your name?” Perhaps, the person who asks the question thinks that it is a polite way of asking someone their name. Isn’t every name a good name? If it is so, the question “What is your name?” is more polite than “What is your good name?”
I have come across the expression ‘eat one’s brain’ on a number of occasions. Look at this conversation:
Boy: Call your parents now and get their permission to come with me for the New Year party.
Girl: I’ll call them later. Not now.
Boy: Give me your mom’s number. Lemme call her.
Girl: You’re eating my brain.
What does this typical Indian English expression mean? When a person gets annoyed or is irritated by someone, they use the expression ‘to eat one’s brain’.
I have heard even many highly educated Indians say “I did my graduation in IIT” and ask “Where did you do your graduation?” The term ‘graduation’ refers to the ceremony at which someone is officially said to have finished a course of study at a university. In India, the word refers to a course of study or an undergraduate programme. Instead of saying, “I did my graduation at IIT Madras,” one should say, “I studied for my degree at IIT Madras.”
The expression ‘teacher/boss sitting on my head’ is used in many parts of India. Whenever a student or an employee feels that the teacher/boss stresses them out, they use the expression, ‘‘My teacher/boss is sitting on my head.’’
I have discussed many Indian English expressions during the past decade. It is good to be aware of the typical IE expressions and avoid using such expressions while communicating with those who are not familiar with the expressions.
Is English the sole property of these nations the UK, the US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada? Which variety of English should be taught to those who learn English as a second or foreign language?
Is English singular or plural?
I will continue to discuss these and many more queries of yours in my columns in 2017. Wish you all a very happy new year.