Word Nerd: ‘Black money’ and other currency-related Indianisms

14 Nov


Since the Indian government scrapped Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes – amounting to some 86% of the country’s cash – on November 8, at just four hours’ notice, everyone in the country seems to have money on the brain. Here are some money-related words that any English-speaking Indian will understand without any trouble. But if you were to use them in other countries, you might need to explain them.

Black money

This expression is not unique to Indian English, of course. It’s a proper English term for income that remains undeclared to avoid taxes. However, in India, it’s a household term: if you search for it on Google.in or Google.com, the first few pages of results are almost entirely from or about India. One doesn’t hear the expression ‘black money’ in ordinary conversation in many other countries as much one does in India. If you use this expression in somewhere else, be prepared to explain why it’s a household term in India.


For years, insurance in India was sold by only government-owned companies. All of them sold (and still sell) a health insurance product called Mediclaim. It’s a brand name, but because it was the only such product, it became synonymous with health insurance itself. When insurance was opened up to private companies, others started to sell health insurance products. But some people, used to calling health plans “Mediclaim”, continue to say things like “I bought my Mediclaim from ICICI.”

 Lakh, crore, peti and khoka

The word lakh, meaning 100,000, has its roots in Sanskrit. So does crore, which means 100 lakhs (10 million). Lakh and crore are commonly used to describe large sums of money, population size, and so on. Fans of Bollywood films will be familiar with the Bombay slang peti (Rs 1 lakh) and khoka (Rs 1 crore), frequently bandied about by ransom-demanding gangsters. The words come from Marathi – peti means suitcase or trunk, and khoka means box. Of course, a peti today is strictly for small fry.


This Hindi word, meaning an official document such as an invoice or receipt, is now in the Oxford dictionary. People often use it as a verb in English – for example, a cop might challan you for speeding. In fact, in India, ‘challan’ is often used synonymously with driving-related fines – what Americans would call speeding or parking tickets.

If you’re in India, you’re probably clean out of cash by now, but if you have any money-related Hinglish to share, leave a comment below or email us!

Older posts in our weekly #WordNerd series are here.

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