By Steven Baker

26 October 2015 - 09:09

'My friend is eating my brain.' Photo (c) Mat Wright
'My friend is eating my brain.' Photo ©

Mat Wright

Teacher sitting on your head? Friend eating your brain? The British Council's Steven Baker picks out ten expressions you will otherwise only discover by going to India.

Did you know there are more users of English in India than in the United Kingdom, Australia, United States, New Zealand and South Africa combined? Not only that, but the colourful Hindi-to-English translations, and use of what would be considered archaic vocabulary elsewhere, mean that Indian English is like no other variety on earth. Here are a few examples:

1. 'I am doing my graduation in London'

We often think of our graduation as the ceremony where you dress up in a gown and cap to collect your degree certificate after three years of early-morning lectures and late-night studying. Not in India. Here, your graduation isn't about that one special day, but refers to the full undergraduate course. 'I did my graduation at the University of London' is the equivalent of saying 'I studied for my degree at the University of London'.

2. 'I passed out of college'

When someone passes out, your first response may be to loosen their collar and get a cold towel. Fear not, in India, passing out has little to do with fainting or falling unconscious. It actually links to number one on the list. 'I passed out' from this college or that university is the Indian-English way of saying 'I graduated'.

3. 'My neighbour is foreign-returned'

Studying abroad is a popular option for Indian students. Being 'foreign-returned' – i.e., returning to India after living in another country – is seen as a good way to improve one's chances of landing a job. It is also an asset in the matrimonial adverts you find in Indian newspapers every Sunday.

4. 'My daughter is convent-educated'

A further expression found in matrimonial ads. To be 'convent-educated' is another way of saying that you studied in a school where the medium of instruction was English. The expression dates back to a time when teaching in India was often delivered by members of the clergy.

5. 'I belong to Delhi'

Ask the question 'Where are you from?' in the UK, and you will get a response such as 'I’m from London' or 'I’m from Manchester'. In India, you are more likely to hear allegiance to a city: 'I belong to Delhi' or 'I belong to Mumbai'.

6. 'Where’s the nearest departmental store?'

When Bollywood actors visit the UK, shopping is often at the top of their list of things to do. Department stores like Selfridges and Harrods are especially popular. If a Hindi film star ever stops you in the street and asks for directions to the nearest 'departmental store', you now know where to direct them.

7. 'My teacher is sitting on my head'

'Tell your teacher to get down' might sound like the correct response. The expression, however, is a direct translation of the Hindi statement 'Mera teacher mere sir pe betha hai' – a colloquial way of complaining 'My teacher is stressing me out'.

8. 'My friend is eating my brain'

Don’t worry, you won’t need to pass the salt. A similar Hindi-to-English translation to number seven, 'My friend is eating my brain' ('Mera friend mera dimag kha raha hai') is a somewhat informal way of saying that your friend won’t stop talking.

9. 'Monkey cap'

We often think of India as being extremely hot, but in the north of the country, the winters can get surprisingly chilly. Head to five-degree Delhi in December and you will see lots of people in 'monkey caps' – a descriptive Indian-English name for the good old balaclava.

10. 'Why This Kolaveri Di?'

Which foreign language pop song has had 98,439,949 views on YouTube (last time I checked)? Gangnam Style by Korean pop star Psy may seem like the obvious answer – but you would be wrong. It’s actually the Tamil film track Why This Kolaveri Di?, which went viral in 2011. With Tamil and English, or 'Tanglish' lyrics, actor-singer Dhanush provides vocals on this down-tempo, acoustic folk tune. For such a sweetly sung song, the title actually translates as 'Why This Murderous Rage, Girl?'.

Find out how much India matters to the UK in our India Matters report.

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