Thursday, September 8, 2016

A smattering of Sanskrit

A smattering of Sanskrit

English really does deserve the “melting pot” description it often receives. One of the countless languages that have contributed to English is Sanskrit (from the region we now call northern India), & here is a tiny fraction of Sanskrit’s contributions to English.

The mynah bird got its English name in 1769 through Hindi from a Sanskrit word meaning delightful or joyful.

Some time around 1839 the Sanskrit word loptram, meaning stolen property or booty, made its way through Hindi & Anglo-Indian to become the English word loot.

It’s very likely that the Sanskrit word drona-m, meaning wooden trough, morphed its way through Hindi to become the English word dinghy. Dinghy joined English in 1810.

Our English word bandana appeared in 1752 from bodhnati, a Sanskrit verb meaning bind. To get to English it passed though through Hindi.

It’s likely the Sanskrit word kandha, or piece of cane sugar showed up in English in the late 1200s as candy. On the way to English it traveled through Persian, Arabic & Old French.

The Sanskrit word for twisted or matted hair was juta-s, which showed up as jute  in English in 1746 after a trip through Bengali.

The board game Parcheesi came from the Sanskrit number twenty-five, (panca vinsati-s), which moved through Hindi to arrive in English in 1800.

The Sanskrit word sramana-s, meaning Buddhist ascetic, passed through Prakrit, Chinese, Tungus, and German to become the English word shaman. When? The 1690s.

It’s very likely the verb shampoo, which showed up in English in 1762 came from the Sanskrit verb meaning pounds or kneads. To get to English it passed through Hindi & Anglo-Indian. In English, shampoo originally meant to massage, & didn’t mean to wash the hair until 1860. And it wasn’t until 1866 that shampoo became a noun.

Since these source words were spoken a long time ago, I’ve chosen to write of Sanskrit in the past tense even though modern Sanskrit is alive and well in many parts of India.

Please click on comments below if you were surprised by any of these etymologies.

Big thanks to friend Aaron Keating, for suggesting this week’s topic, & thanks to this week’s sources: Wordnik, Merriam-Webster, Etymonline, & Collins Dictionary, & the OED.


  1. More enlightenment from the Wordmonger! I had no idea people still spoke Sanskrit! I think it's interesting that candy is the word that is most like its ancient root. Maybe because the English didn't really have candy of their own. It all came from exotic places like India and Turkey and Persia.

  2. Hi Anne - I love the idea that lo these many moons ago candy was as simple as a hunk of sugar cane. Thanks for coming by.

  3. Interesting! Even if it is hard to understand how loptram became loot and dronam became dinghy.

    1. Greetings Timothy - thanks for popping by & having something to say. I'm with you on the changes in language over the years. Some words change a heap more than those two have. It's a crazy language we speak.