Of the results of the Roman supremacy in Britain none have been so permanent as their influence on our language. No doubt this was less due to any direct effect that their residence among the Britons had at the time on vernacular speech than to the fact that, for many centuries after their departure, Latin was the language, throughout Europe, of literature and scholarship. Our supremacy in India is acting on the languages of that country in both ways, and though it has scarcely lasted half as long yet as the Roman rule in Britain, English already bids fair to become one day the common tongue of the Hindus. But there is also a current flowing the other way, comparatively insignificant, but curious and interesting.
Few persons in England are aware how often they use words of Indian origin in common speech. In attempting to give a list of these I will exclude the trade names of articles of Indian produce or manufacture, which have no literary interest, and also words which indicate objects, ideas or customs that are not English, and therefore have no English equivalents, such as "tom-tom," "sepoy" and "suttee," I will also omit Indian words, such as "bundobust," and "griffin," which are used by writers like Thackeray in the same way in which French terms are commonly introduced into English composition.
Of course, it is not always possible to draw a hard and fast line. There are words which first came into England as the trade names of Indian products, but have extended their significance, or entirely changed it, and taken a permanent place in the English language. Pepper still means what it originally meant, but it has also become a verb. Another example is Shawl, a word which has lost all trace of its Oriental origin. It is a pure Hindustani word, pronounced "Shal," and indicating an article thus described in the seventeenth century by Thevenot, as quoted in Hobson-Jobson:—"Une Chal, qui est une maniere de toilette d'une laine très fine qui se fait a Cachmir." With the article to England came the name, but soon spread itself over all fabrics worn in the same fashion, except the Scotch plaid, which held its own.
Somewhat similar is Calico, originally a fine cotton cloth imported from Calicut. This place is called Calicot by the natives, and may have dropped the final T through the influence of French dressmakers. Chintz is another example, being the Hindustani word "cheent," which means a spotted cotton cloth. In trade fabrics are always described in the plural, and the Z in Chintz is no doubt a perversion, through misunderstanding, of the terminal S. Lac is another Indian word which has retained its own meaning, but it has gone beyond it and given rise to a verb "to lacquer."
With these perhaps should be mentioned Pyjamas and Shampoo, both of which have undergone strange perversions. Pyjama is an Indian name for loose drawers or trousers tied with a cord round the waist, such as Mussulmans of both sexes wear. In India the Pyjama was long ago adopted, with a loose coat to match, as a more decent and comfortable costume than the British nightshirt, and when Anglo-Indians retired they brought the fashion home with them, English tailors called the whole costume a "Pyjama suit," but the second word was soon dropped and the first improved into the plural number.
"Shampoo" comes from a verb "champna," to press or squeeze, and the imperative, "champo," as often happens, was the form in which it became English. Forbes, in his Oriental Memoirs, writes of "the effects of opium, champoing and other luxuries indulged in by Oriental sensualists." When the medical profession in England began to patronise the practice, it assumed a more dignified name, "massage," and the old word was relegated to the hairdressers, who appropriated it to the washing of the head, an operation with which the word has no proper relation at all.
There are two words of doubtful derivation, which may be mentioned in this connection. Cot, in the sense of a light bed, or cradle, is not much used in England, but is given in Webster's and other dictionaries, with the same Saxon derivation, as the "cot beside the hill" which the poet Rogers sighed for. If this is correct, then it is at least curious that the word should have almost gone out of use in England and revived in India from a distinct root. There it is the term in every-day use for any rough bedstead, such as the natives sleep on and call a khat. The average Englishman cannot aspirate a K, and never pronounces the Indian A aright unless it is followed by an R, so khat becomes "cot" by a process of which there are many illustrations.
The other doubtful word mentioned above is Teapoy. It is defined in the dictionaries as an ornamental table, with a folding top, containing caddies for holding tea, but in India, where it is in much more general use than it is in England, it signifies simply a light tripod table and almost certainly comes from "teenpai" (three-foot), corresponding to another common word, "charpai" (four-foot), which means a native bedstead. The fact that it is sometimes spelled Tepoy confirms this, but the other spelling is commoner, and appears to have led to its getting a special meaning connected with tea among furniture sellers.
Cheroot, Bangle, Curry and Kidgeree are examples of words which have come to us with the things which they signify, and retain their meaning though the thing itself may have undergone some change. Curry as made in England is sometimes not recognisable by a new arrival from India, and Kidgeree is applied to a preparation of rice and fish, whereas it means properly a dish of rice, split peas and butter, or "ghee." Fish may be eaten with it, but is not an ingredient of it. Bazaar may be classed with these words, and also Polo, which is merely the name for a polo ball in the language of one of the Himalayan tribes from whom we learned the game. It is said to have been played in England for the first time at Aldershot in 1871.