10 Everyday Words Sourced from Sanskrit

Over the 73 years following India's independence, more than 3,000 Sanskrit works have been created, and more than 90 weekly, biweekly, and quarterly publications are published in Sanskrit. Yet, many of us did not have the opportunity to study the language or have lost touch with it.


We were taught that Sanskrit is the pure origin of our native tongues, so it will come as no surprise that the word “Sanskrit” itself comes from saṃskṛta, meaning “adorned, cultivated, purified.” Sanskrit derives from Proto-Indo-Iranian, which can further be traced back to Proto-Indo-European (PIE) languages; specifically to people who spoke Aryan languages (Indo-Iranian) and Indo-European languages (encompassing several hundred related languages and dialects).


Fun fact: according to a 2019 report by Ethnologue, the two most spoken languages are English and Mandarin-Chinese, belonging to the Indo-European and Sino-Tibetan families respectively.


To fully understand the historic relationship between languages, linguists often use a tree metaphor.



Sanskrit is grammatically similar to early Indo-European languages, for instance, Latin and Greek. We suspect that this is partly why we came across so many interesting connections (and quite a few ambiguities) while writing this article. Without further ado, here are ten everyday words with origins in Sanskrit:-


Candy

/ˈkandi/ [kan·dee]


sweets; confectionery.


Sweets are an important part of our socio-cultural landscape, especially during special occasions or festivals when we present each other with boxes full of scrumptious mithai. So it doesn’t come as a surprise that “candy” has its origins in ancient India, where people boiled sugarcane juice into pieces of sugar known as khanda (fragment) in Sanskrit.


“I’m not a fan of candies, but I’ll never say no to my mom’s chocolate chip cookies.”


Pepper

/ˈpɛpə/ [peh·puh]


a pungent hot-tasting powder prepared from dried and ground peppercorns, used as a spice or condiment to flavour food.


One of the most globally used spices, black pepper can enhance the taste of every dish –– be it a pizza or a lentil soup. Before the word was introduced into the Old English language, it had a West Germanic origin stemming from the word pfeffer. However, if we dive deeper into the past, we’d find that the first known source of the word is in the Sanskrit language as pippali or “berry, peppercorn”

“Always add a dash of black pepper to your meal, not only because of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, but also because of its ability to enhance the taste of your food.”




Shampoo

/ʃamˈpuː/ [sham·poo]


a liquid preparation for washing the hair.


Many of us enjoy taking our sweet time in the shower as we put on a concert for ourselves and massage shampoo into our hair. The name of this popular cleanser comes to us by way of the Hindi word champo, from champna or “to press,” a practice shared by a Turkish bath process as well. Theyse originate from Sanskrit capayati, which means “pounds” or “kneads.” The word was integrated into the English language in 1762, during the colonial era in India.


“Sometimes, nothing soothes my headaches like a shampoo massage.”




Juggernaut

/ˈdʒʌɡənɔːt/ [juh·guh·nawt]

a huge, powerful, and overwhelming force.


This one goes back to Jagannath, a form of the Hindu deity Vishnu. In the 14th century, a Franciscan missionary allegedly exaggerated the events of a religious parade — telling people that worshippers let themselves be crushed by an enormous carriage that had an image of Vishnu on it. As the story made its way throughout Europe, “juggernaut” caught on as a reference to massive vehicles or powerful forces.


“I know that Apple is an industry juggernaut, but I don't think their phones are worth it.”


Punch

/pʌn(t)ʃ/ [puhnch]


a hot or cold drink that is usually a combination of hard liquor, wine, or beer and nonalcoholic beverages. Also: a drink that is a mixture of nonalcoholic beverages.


I first learned this meaning of “punch” from American prom movies aplenty. A few years later, I tasted it for myself from a large bowl, wondering what made the mystery mixed beverage so delectable. “Punch” can be traced back to the Sanskrit word pancha, meaning “five” or “five kinds of,” in reference to the five original ingredients — spirits, water, lemon juice, sugar, and spice.


“With its strong taste of apples and cinnamon, the steaming punch was perfect for the frigid weather.”



Chit

/tʃɪt/ [chit] a short official note, typically recording a sum owed.


Today the word “chit” is also informally used to signify a message scribbled on a scrap piece of paper. Interestingly, the word has travelled across continents and centuries before it represented the note that we slip under our desks and pass along to our best friends during classes at school. It has been found to derive from the Sanskrit word chitra-s meaning "distinctively marked" which later evolved to the Hindi word chitthi meaning “note, pass.”


“The detective found a chit explaining the amount of money transacted between the store owner and the residents.”


Argentum (silver)

/ɑrˈdʒɛn təm/ [ahr·jen·tuhm]


A precious shiny greyish-white metal, the chemical element of atomic number 47.


You may be well-acquainted with silver thanks to the spoons brought out only for special occasions, or a beloved pair of earrings. Or maybe you know it as the werewolf killer! Either way, Argentum is a Latin word and the scientific name for “silver.” It is said to stem from -arg, “to shine; white,” a Proto-Indo-European root which descended into the Sanskrit word rajatá, meaning “silvery, silver-colored, made of silver” or “whitish.”


“His dog was such a striking shade of silver that he settled on a fitting yet unique name: Argentum.”


Avatar

/ˈavətɑː/ [a·vuh·taa]


an icon or figure representing a particular person in a video game, Internet forum, etc.


In Hinduism, “avatar” refers to an incarnation of a deity in human form (usually Vishnu), and comes from the Sanskrit word avatarana, meaning “coming down.” Avatarana derives from PIE root au- ("off, away") and the base of tarati, "(he) crosses over." Tarati has origins in the PIE root *tere-, meaning cross over, pass through, overcome." The word started being used in English in the late 18th century and in modern times, it has been popularized by video games, James Cameron’s 2009 film, and the show Avatar: The Last Airbender.


“She always spends lots of time crafting goofy avatars on video games.”


Crimson

/ˈkrɪmz(ə)n/ [krim·zn]


of a rich deep red colour inclining to purple. The twilight sky, a rhubarb pie, a bunch of tulips, a shade of lipstick - are some things that come to mind when we think of the colour crimson. While the word has been used as a part of the English language since the early 1400s it is said to be sourced from the Sanskrit word Kṛmijā meaning “worm-made” signifying the red dye produced by insects.


“The first few crimson leaves fell from the neighbouring maple trees announcing the advent of my favourite season: Autumn.”



Incandescent

/ɪnkanˈdɛs(ə)nt/ [ing·kan·des·uhnt]


emitting light as a result of being heated It is time to bring out strings of incandescent fairy lights and liven up our rooms. If you are wondering what the root of this word that has such a good mouthfeel is, you’d be interested to know that it stems from the Sanskrit word, chand (kand) or chandra meaning “shine” or “shining, glowing moon.” The French incorporated the word in their own dictionary as incandescere in the late 18th century, before it developed into its current form in the English language.


“Our Christmas tree is decked with incandescent lights, baubles and jingle bells.”


Written by Aakanksha Gupta and Aradhita Saraf (Weloquent)

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