Word Nerd: 8 Words Which Mark Hindi’s Invasion of English in the First World War

7 Mar

We would all readily associate the First World War with catastrophe. But, it was also a time of creativity. Trenches, tanks, steel helmets, poisonous gases, blood banks, and mobile x-ray machines were some legacies of the war. As was the emergence of Poland, the Soviet Union, Turkey and other nationalities.


However, what emerged from the war was not just a new world, but also a new way of expressing it. In the trenches, English had been under siege. The mingling of men from different classes, counties and countries, had a far reaching impact. English expanded its borders to include words from German, French, Turkish, Arabic and Hindi, making it all the more fascinating and complex.

Here is a list of 8 Hindi words which were used to temper the khichuri or kedgeree that is English.

Backchat: It is hard to imagine soldiers being cheeky to their seniors in the trenches, but it happened often enough for there to be a word for it. Backchat comes from the Hindi word for conversation, baat-chit.

Badmash: Refers, like the original word, to a scoundrel. Not to a bad potato dish, as one might easily speculate.

Blighty: Comes from the word Urdu word vilayati, which meant foreign, and was used by Indian soldiers to describe Britain. Interestingly, the British came to use it to describe home – Blighty Britain. There are several wartime songs with blighty in the title – Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty, being the best known among them.

Chokey: Meant minor punishment. For example, Sam’s doing the chokey, or, Sam’s in the chokey. It retains the same meaning as its Hindi original – chowki.

Cushy: From the word khushi, which means happiness. During the war, the word was used for comfortable trenches in quiet sectors.

Dekko: Quick look or glance. Much like the Hindi summon – dekho.

Dixie: A large iron pot or 12-gallon camp kettle used for cooking by the British soldiers. The word is a corruption of degchi, which is the Hindi for a small wok.

Go phut: Probably originated from the Hindi word phatna – to burst. It was used to describe the dull abrupt sound of explosions, but also could be used for describing something which had failed to work.

Any important words we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments section!

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