09 Apr 2018

5 words in English that don’t mean the same in India

It’s called Indian English. And this list could go on and on!

The very fact that  most young Indians speak a reasonable level of grammatically correct English (let’s not discuss accents please) and that they listen to a range of music from ColdPlay and Justin Bieber to Pavarotti does not mean we are that steeped in what is called the “Western way” of thinking. We’ve taken English to its native level (a lot of us even think in English now) and then coloured the language with our innate Indianness! Here’s a list of 5 English words that mean something quite different in India. (And do add to these if you like!)

The First English Word: YES

Haha! Yes, it’s yes. Affirmative. Positive. Yes. The world over it’s the three letter syllable that makes a marriage happen. It’s what Indians say when they are offered a cuppa, chai, or chai latte, if you please.  Yes please would be a polite English way to say you do want something. In India? No. Not necessarily. Let’s say you are from London, talking to your Indian counterpart. You find him listening to you. Most likely nodding. And even more likely…“Yes, yes” he says. “Yes, yes”.  The reason why he does that is that he to affirm that he is indeed listening. It does not mean he agrees with you. It means, yes, he is listening, he understands what you are saying and he wants you to know that he is listening. It’s almost like the American “Uh-huh” but gets expressed as “Yes”. Now go figure!

The Second English Word: NO

It’s strange that this is a word that most Indians run a mile from. NO is not a spoken word, unless it’s a parent telling a child not to put his fingers in the fire or run in front of a moving truck. NO means negation and saying NO to a person, especially someone older, or in a place of authority or even a bit of a stranger (read that as a colleague), is a big NO-NO. So if you rarely hear this word, look out for options. (In another post!)

The Third English Word: Maybe

The world over, English-speaking countries think “maybe” is a positive word. If I tell you that I may              be able to meet you on Friday, it means I am most likely to meet you on Friday. But not in India. No              way. In India it means, “there’s absolutely no way I can meet you on Friday but I am too polite to hurt your feelings! Also because No is not in my vocabulary” 

 You’d never realise that this Fourth English Word has several meanings: Snap

“Let me see the snaps of the wedding please!” says the friend. She wants to see the pictures, the photographs. It’s only after ‘Snapchat’ became so popular that the word ‘Snap’ has been even linked to a photograph. Otherwise it has largely meant ‘in a snap’ or being ‘snappy’ as in irritable or even ‘snappy’ as in quick.

And the music industry will not like this Fifth English word: Cover

I love the way the artist Disturbed has done a cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence. Or did you hear the Jeff Buckley’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”?
Or maybe we are talking about how well The Washington Post covered the LGBT rally in New York. But in India the word cover is largely used for an ‘envelope’

The list can go on and on.

But imagine the misunderstanding the words could cause in a conversation! Which is why global teams working with India could well have a challenge in interpretation.

Do you know any English word that could well mean something else in India? Put them down in the comments below and we could continue the conversation. 


One thought on “5 words in English that don’t mean the same in India”

  1. The word “snap” is from “snapshot” which is what the app snapchat got its name from… So “snap” has been used about photos before that

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