Language is fascinating, with words from around the globe spreading across different countries and being incorporated into new languages via trade, travel and migration. Indian words such as ‘loot, nirvana, pyjamas, shampoo, shawl, bungalow, jungle, pundit and thug’ have all become part of our everyday English language. As worldwide trade progressed through European conquests of the East Indies, Indian words steadily came into common use within English.
India’s impact on English highlights how language is continuously travelling, and is an example of the significance of companies like The East India Company in shaping the modern world.
Punch was a favourite with The East India Company’s employees in India. The word comes from the Hindustani “Panch” meaning five. This refers to the five ingredients then used in the drink, namely tea, arrack, sugar, lemons and water.
Initially East India Company coins were minted in England and shipped to the East. In England over time the word ‘Cash’ was adopted from the Tamil word ‘Kasu’, meaning ‘a coin’. The East India Company coinage had both Urdu and English writing on it, to facilitate its use within trade. In 1671 the directors of The East India Company ordered a mint to be established at Bombay, known as Bombaim. In 1677 this was sanctioned by The Crown, the coins, having received royal sanction were struck as silver Rupees; the inscription runs The Rupee of Bombaim, by authority of Charles II.
At about this time coins were also being produced for The East India Company at the Madras mint. The currency at The Company’s Bombay and Bengal administrative regions was The Rupee. At Madras, however, The Company’s accounts were reckoned in ‘Pagodas’, ‘Fractions’, ‘Fanam’, ‘Faluce’ and ‘Cash’. This system was maintained until 1818 when the Rupee was adopted as the unit of currency for The Company’s operations, the relation between the two systems being 1 Pagoda equalling 3-91 Rupees and 1 Rupee equalling 12 Fanams.
Over time, coins of The East India Company achieved an almost universal circulation in India. The use of a national single value of Cash facilitated internal trade between the regions, laying foundations for a national commercial system.
One of the earliest Indian words to enter the English language was ‘Loot’. This comes from the Hindustani colloquial term for plunder. It became a common term in Britain in the late 18th Century.