I do so love the nuances of language. From Hindi films, traveling in India, and my Indian friends and colleagues, I have learned some great expressions which either don’t exist or are seldom if ever used in English (at least American English). These are some of my favorites.

My favorite favorite. How did I ever live without it?

A tight slap is so much worse than a plain old regular slap (especially when truth is on the giving side).

Why bother with complicated verb conjugations, when “isn’t it” can suffice on its own?

In English we would say “butter up” but in Hinglish you are just buttered.

Mmmmmm. Butter.

Doing (or trying) one’s level best is what you’d say in English too, except hardly anybody ever does (say it, I mean).

“Shoe-bite” is so much more expressive than “blister.” (And now there’s a whole movie about it, ha!)

I remember noticing this phrase around the time of the AbhiAsh wedding, when people left off the invitation list accused the Bachchans of “acting pricey.” Hey, if you are pricey then why not act pricey?

In English you’d be called an informer for tattling on your criminal colleagues. In India, you become an approver. 

Hooray for a richer vocabulary! Hooray!

Edited to add: The PPCC reminded me of this one too in her comments, which I overlooked earlier:

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67 Comments to “Hinglish”

  1. You didn’t find one for “postponement”? :)

  2. Excuse this confused soul. I meant to say “preponement”.

  3. I knew what you meant! No, I’ve actually never seen the word “prepone” used in films, although my colleagues in India use it all the time. They are quite surprised to hear that no such word exists in regular English.

  4. Speaking of language, I’ve always wondered about the double negatives. Do they actually reflect the Hindi, or is it a subtitle issue? “Until the day you aren’t doing this blog, I won’t stop reading it.”

  5. I think those are a reflection of the Hindi construct (as is “isn’t it”). It is a subtitle issue too, technically, since the translation should be better…but I’m not complaining!

    Those come along so often I hardly notice them anymore, although I found it v. confusing at the beginning.

  6. I’ve gotten so used to both hearing and using some of these terms that my instinctive reaction is, “What’s so strange about this?” But I can see what you mean :-)

    By the way, prepone didn’t have legal status for the longest time, until the venerable Oxford English Dictionary decided that it was too logical to ignore. So you can now find it listed!

    As for the last screencap, I think the difference between informant and approver is that the latter is a legal thing – more like turning state’s witness rather than just being a plain ol’ snitch.


  7. Ramsu: One reason I wrote this post is because Indians are always interested in what I find strange. Plus language just is so interesting to me.

    Prepone is quite logical, I agree! A state’s witness in the US would still not be called an “approver” but either an informant or a witness for the prosecution. Perhaps the OED will do the needful for the rest of these phrases and terms too!

  8. Some of them are actually words you’d find in King’s English and which the Queen’s English has now dropped. I remember coming across “approver” in an old Edgar Wallace novel from the 1920s. I am not sure why they show up in subtitles which (I presume) are written recently for movies released on DVD in the last couple of years! Perhaps shoe-bite is British English, too? Have always used both “shoe-bite” and “blister” though the latter can be on any body part while the former occurs only on the feet!

  9. I’m sure that a lot of “Hinglish” contains English that is no longer spoken, but is a leftover from the Raj…I did grow up with British English and never heard any of these used though.

  10. memsaab>> I think the OED will go as far as prepone, but not beyond that. I can even imagine them considering shoe-bite. But tight slap? Nah! :)

  11. Were these characters speaking in English? If not, then I wouldn’t call these “Hinglish”, just poor translation.

    By the way, “level best” is a frequently used phrase in Britain and “tight slap” sounds like something hoodies would say.

  12. Yes, I’ve heard all of these in use with/as English. As I said, people do say “level best” occasionally, but in America anyway it’s much more common to hear “I’ll try” instead. The Indians I know are as or more likely to say “I’ll do my level best” than “I’ll try.”

    I am pretty sure that “tight slap” is uniquely Indian, although I’m doing my level best to spread it around! Usually one would not say “give a slap” either as “slap” by itself is a verb: “I’ll slap you so hard your whole family will feel it.”

  13. Ouch! I’ll go one step further and give you such a tight slap that your ancestors will feel it :-D lol.

  14. you insane woman! :)

  15. Memsaab,

    Great post! My brother and I always get a kick out of these things when watching Hindi films…Like you, I love this stuff, very interesting…

    Its also pretty awesome when you think that our thought patterns are based on our native language, and that those who speak, for example, Urdu, may have an idea or thought that cannot be expressed in English–and vice versa. I think this has a lot to do with how each culture forms its own unique–and special– individuality.

    I always end up catching these little phrases in the films and may chuckle in fun…but then notice they are used over and over in my everyday life! For example, one day I saw “She swooned” and thought, how cute, but have since heard it from teachers, friends, coworkers! Funny how some things jump out at you when you never really noticed them before.

    Some other ones can think of –Putting “even” in front of a sentence (“Even this is life…”), Using “today” in place of “now” (“today that love is gone”)…I know there are many, many more…if I think of them I’ll drop another comment! :)

  16. It’s actually just poor English, not Hinglish.
    I’ve worked as an editor, and in years of reviewing stuff written by Indians, I’ve rarely come across these phrases being used by people who know their English. And `needful’, `shoe bite’, and `the same’ (when you’re referring to something that’s been mentioned earlier) just get my goat!

  17. I confess to being a total Hinglishi. Don’t know when one begins and the other ends. Know I ought to make an effort to learn correct English, no??

  18. Frankly speaking, I don’t see anything wrong with using Hinglish – or whatever – informally, in conversation, fiction, or whatever…
    But call me conservative or plain finicky, but I do expect official communication – training material, announcements, stuff like that – to be correct. Not subtitles, though… they add to the fun, I think! :-)

  19. I love Hinglish so much. I love it from a linguistics perspective: all the interesting mutations as it is absorbed into and informed by different linguistic groups (in Italian, you hear great things like “faxare” – to fax – “ho flirtato” – I flirted – or DVD pronounced “dee voo dee”). I think I started loving Hinglish in particular after Om Shanti Om… I loved first act Om’s exclamations: Nothings matter. Alls well? Controls! I’ve started using some Hinglish phrases inadvertently, they capture the shade of meaning/tone I’m going for: Please to mention not! Worry not! And it’s fun the other way as well: mat worry karna!

    Also, re: caps: Is “level best” Shashi? That looks like it might be Salaakhen, as there’s that hapless insurance agent guy. Also, which Iftikhar movie is the last cap from?

  20. Oh yeah: forgot to mention Rotten English, an anthology of postcolonial writing which I think addresses this issue of “new Englishes” directly.

  21. I once read a piece by someone (I forget who, of course) who was completely enchanted by the fact that Indians use words like “bamboozle” as a matter of course. He had accused someone of trying to cheat him, and that person replied: “There is no bamboozlement here sir.”

    Nida, you pointed out some excellent examples of same (sorry, madhu!!!) :-)

    One of my favorites also (but I didn’t have a screen cap for it) is the use of the word “only” as in “We are like this only.”

    ppcc: I have edited this post to add one you reminded me of—I overlooked it writing the post, but you and I notice the same kinds of things! ;-) I am v.v. sorry, but I can’t remember which movies the caps are from that you asked about, although I *think* the level best one is Rajesh Khanna, not Shashi. My poor, sad, fading memory…

  22. this is hiiiilarious, especially the butter one- you can be too ghee’ed up can ya

  23. The bamboozle reference is from the opening chapter of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, where he talks about his plan to go to India and finish writing a novel, and his friend tells him that Indians use words like “bamboozle”. I loved that book!

    Actually, I am a little biased towards books that refer to South India. Most books by non-Indians that refer to India are about either Mumbai, Delhi or Kolkata. Places like Chennai, Pondicherry and Madurai hardly ever figure in the discussion.


  24. Thanks Ramsu for helping out, yes it must have been Yann Martel. Life of Pi was a good read!

  25. Thanks for the post. They’re all very interesting, Memsaab. I agree with Madhu here, about it being more a case of poor English. Also relate to comments by Bollyviewer and Ramsu.

    What’s interesting about “tight slap” is that it is as prominent in the three regional languages I learned, as it is in Hindi and Urdu. I tend to agree with you that it is uniquely Indian. And my experience (with family and co-workers) has been that “isn’t it” and “level best” are very widely used in the land that gave us English. My favorite has always been, “will you *kindly*…”.

    This also reminded me of a discussion with an English language college professor on the correctness of the words ‘learned’ and ‘learnt’. My professor’s take on this was that ‘learnt’ was antiquated and incorrect (which spell check on WordPress just corroborated). Of course, I thought otherwise (largely because growing up in South Asia, I was taught they had very distinct meanings). In the end, we agreed that as long as the message was communicated, they were both correct :) Give a pre-internet Indian audience the word ‘learned’ as a verb, and I am not sure what the reaction would be. Aah the beauty of semantics…


  26. I think “Approver” is an Edwardian term. Formal English styles, especially for those who’re not used to speaking English in everyday life, in India tend to lean towards the Edwardian. Not that I’m complaining, I like it!
    Speaking of Mention Not, the only time I giggled even a little during the Ash – SRK Devdas was when he calls her a silly girl and she says Mention not. :D It struck very true.

    TheBollywoodFan – oops :oops: I just finished browbeating my American writing partner into accepting learnt instead of learned. It sounds so much more precise and correct! Why must it be antiquated? Not fair. *grumble grumble*

  27. BollywoodFan: I don’t agree that it’s poor English (well sometimes it is). But for these phrases I think it’s more a case of using antiquated colloquialisms or a literal translation from the Hindi construction. “Isn’t it” is of course correct English many times, but in the example above it is not; in English you would say “You must be tired, aren’t you?” I’ve heard the same thing in Africa for the same reason, i.e. “Hai na?” translates directly as “Isn’t it” and is always correct in Hindi. But in English you have to match the “question tag” to the subject of the sentence.

    Oy! Now my head hurts! Thanks Amrita for figuring out the origins of “approver”—want to go to work on “tight slap”???? :-D I’d love to find out where that originated…

    and thanks everyone for your interest and comments :-)

  28. Wah! Sumanth. Great article there! It contains many many examples (like “What is your good name?”—another favorite of mine). I think it backs me up in saying that it’s not just poor English either, but an evolutionary path that has its own identity and validity.

  29. I’ve just been watching Junglee (without subtitles), and in the scene where Lalita Pawar catches Shashikala sneaking out – well, what Shashikala says is (literally, in Hindi): “My shoes bite.” So that’s why the `shoe-bite’! ;-)
    And the `What’s your good name?” is also a direct translation from the Hindi “aapka shubh naam kya hai?”…good heavens, I didn’t realise just how much literal translation goes on here!

  30. Some of the incorrect uses, as has been pointed out, seem to be an extension of the word for word versus sense for sense argument (‘isn’t it’ is one example).

    When translating songs, I think there’s some value in translating word for word, because the poetic nature of some of the expressions demand ambiguity, are open to interpretation, and deserve to be read that way. What do you think?

  31. Ha ha madhu—we will convert you to Hinglish yet! :-) I particularly love shoe-bite. It so perfectly expresses how it feels when your shoes are too small or too stiff…they bite!

    And BollywoodFan, we seem to have circled back to the subtitles post again :-)

  32. First of all, allow me to use this opportunity to tell you how much I love this site. There is something about your reviewing style that is much appealing plus it is both informative and entertaining. I also appreciate the fact that your reviews are kind hearted and the humour is not condescending. Thank you.

    This subject is interesting to me since I realised that as a Turkish speaking Bollywood viewer, some of these subtitles actually don’t really sound weird to me (the slap of truth is something we use a lot in our language and our shoes don’t bite but they hit :) ) And mention not – hahaaahahaa. It was an eye opener on how actually these will not make sense to a native speaker.

  33. Wow, thank you Eliza Bennet :-) Are you a Jane Austen fan? I hope you keep visiting and commenting too!

    There are so many great expressions in every language that don’t get translated enough. My sister taught me one recently from German which essentially translates as “She’s a woman you could steal horses with.” How fantastic is that?! And when Sharmila’s father in Kashmir Ki Kali said “Today truth stood before me and has given me a tight slap” it struck me as so evocative of how you really do feel when you have to face something difficult you’ve been avoiding. It’s cool to hear that in Turkish you have the “slap of truth” too!

  34. Ah memsaab, so glad to see some discussion around the tight slap, as I am a HUGE fan of that phrase, hai na? A non-Indian friend told me that the Brittishers (another term I love and learned from Indian movies:Brittishers. Sounds so evil, hai na?) do use the term “tight slap,” but who am I to say. I have no proff. Oh Brittishers, come and tell us. My other most favorite thing to see in Bollywood films is when something hurts and the character’s subtitles read, “I’m paining.” I don’t love their pain, but love to see the term paining used, hai na? :)

  35. Oh, yes! “paining” is an excellent one!

  36. memsaab, don’t mean to be acting pricey in posting another comment, but I remembered another of my favorites besides paining and the tight slap: tension. Using tension as we would use “under pressure” or “under stress” and instead saying something like “she has tension.” Tension hai?

  37. The more the merrier, Sitaji! Lose the tension! Comment away :-)

  38. Hahaha I enjoyed the post and the comments so much… “truth stood before me”.

    “slowly slowly come in to my life…”, “my heart is dancing today”, “there is a piece of moon staying in the opposite window from me” :P LOL

  39. Nice ones Kanan. Memsaab, I thought of another one: “eat my brains” or “Don’t chew my brains!” meaning, “get off my back” or “don’t nag me in our USA world. You’ve seen that one too, hai na?

  40. Kanan: The “today truth stood before me” is one of my all-time favorite lines. I so want to use it myself someday, although I guess it’ll mean I’ve been stupid about something. I love the poetic ways that love is translated too: “Your moon-like face” for instance just doesn’t cut it as a compliment in English :-) But I get that it’s much more beautiful and lyrical in Hindi/Urdu.

    Sitaji: How could I have forgotten “chew my brains”???? :-D

  41. Thanks, Sitaji & Memsaab. The “eat my brains” and “chew my brains” are so famous one, along with “I will drink your blood” hahaha!

    I remember another one where the Hindi dialog was “kandhe pe baith ke kaan mat chabaa” so would the translation be “sitting on shoulder don’t chew my ears”? Yesterday, while watching Lage Raho Munnabhai I saw they translated “vinamra” to Gracious Lee. Sanjubaba asked “yeh vinamra kaun hai?” and it showed as “who is this Gracious Lee?”.

    Btw, I loved the caption work they did in the new Devdas (2002) (SRK starrer), specially all the couplets said by Chunibabu (Jackie Shroff) are done so beautifully – they tried to translate and still rhyme them the way he said them in Hindi.

  42. I think the subtitles in the Munnabhai films are great—the Gracious Lee was poking fun at Munna’s having no clue about English so thinking graciously=someone’s name.

    Love In Simla had one that I left out of my post on it: “Holy riots” instead of “holy rites.”

    But then, sometimes, sadly, holy riots would be correct :-(

  43. I thought of another: “peg” for a shot of booze.

    Whether it’s purely a term used in India is discussed here.


  44. I know peg is a word used in English for a shot of liquor, but like several examples above, I think it’s used in a much more commonplace way in India. People are more apt to say “shot” nowadays than “peg”…

    I noticed another one in the site you linked to, and that’s the propensity of Indians to call people “dear” as in “Thank you dear.”

  45. A peg is a far more colourful and versatile term than “shot”. For instance we have a pau peg for a quarter shot, then a chota peg for a half measure, then the peg itself, then a burrra peg for a double and finally a patiala peg where you fill the glass with neat whiskey.

  46. I quite agree with you Keshto :-) I will sit down and learn these different peg amounts! oh who am I kidding…I will always order a patiala peg!

  47. Great post, memsaab! I grew up hearing and using “do the needful”, and had no idea that it was Indian English. I guess it just shows that even 13,000 km away from India, one Anglo-Indian parent can still leave a mark on his children’s idiolect. Also, fwiw, “try your level best” was very common in standard NZ English when I was growing up. Given the nature of the post, I found the constant use of “English” without a variant marker a little disconcerting, since it makes a strong implicit statement that there is only one right English. If that’s true, then the one right English is the one spoken by most people, and that gives the crown to Indian English, hai na?

  48. Hi Stuart :-) I *did* say at the beginning that I was coming at this from an “American” English perspective. I did not by any means try to imply that there is only one “right” English. I love Indian English as a matter of fact, and grew up in a British colony with “English” English (I still struggle with spelling and things like lift vs elevator). But by and large, my acquaintances and vocabulary have become American and so that’s my main basis for comparison. I would love to read a post by an Indian person someday about their perspective on American English!

  49. Prepone :


    to prepone

    Third person singular

    Simple past

    Past participle

    Present participle

    to prepone (third-person singular simple present prepones, present participle preponing, simple past and past participle preponed)

    1. (India) To schedule to a time before the original’s

    * For examples of the usage of this word see the citations page.


  50. I hear “prepone” all the time from my Indian colleagues, so I hardly even notice it any more. Very useful word!

  51. wat about



    TOPLESS DANCE (referring to a male)

  52. I even received preponed in an sms from Spicejet to announce a flight change.
    And I spend a lot of time trying to convince my American children who are growing up in India that “paining” will not be acceptable when they return to America. Not to mention “isn’t it” or “that way only”. I do love hearing Hinglish!

  53. Damaris, those are good ones too, especially “open hair”…

    dohnohse: I love “that way only” or “like that only” especially, but paining is a good one too. I grew up overseas and still struggle sometimes with whether what’s in my head is correct for America! it’s part and parcel of the experience…wouldn’t trade it for anything :)

  54. Actual letter written by irate traveler in 1909 and displayed at the National Railway Museum at New Delhi:

    Dear Sir,
    I am arrive by passenger train Ahmedpur station and my belly is too much swelling with jackfruit. I am therefor went to privy. Just I doing the nuisance that guard making whistle blow for train to go off and I am running with LOTAH in one hand and dhoti in the next when I am fall over and expose all my shocking to man and female women on plateform. I am got leaved at Ahmedpur station.
    This too much bad, if passenger go to make dung that dam guard not wait train five minutes for him. I am therefore pray your honor to make big fine on that guard for public sake. Otherwise I am making big report to papers.
    Yours faithfully servent
    Okhil Ch. Sen

    Train compartments were provided with toilets shortly after this!

  55. Quite interesting!!
    BTW, there is a difference between an “approver” and an “informer” though!! Approver is invariably is one of the accused, who becomes a witness for the Govt. Informer as we all know is an altogether different category!!

  56. drbaliga: I am falling off my chair laughing! Oh that is priceless, thank you for sharing!

    sanhita: You make an excellent point :-)

  57. Memsaab: You might enjoy the Lonely Planet guide: “Indian English Language and Culture–Total Timepass!” It describes many of these expressions and their sources. My favorite Hinglish expression is “nursing a grouse” which I thought was a translation error until I saw it used repeatedly.

  58. Ooh, I think I would! *goes to amazon.com to look for it*

  59. English is one of the very young languages in the world when compared to a lot of Indian languages, which have been in existence for several thousands of years. So Naturally, many indian language have far more descriptive and expansive vocabulary than English. Hence, many times, there arent any equalent word or phrase in english for many indian words. Eventhough you may comment that the same phrase could have been expressed in a simpler format, It does not convey the subtle changes in meanings conveyed by the corresponding indian word. Hence you will notice some really odd translation many times. But those make perfect sense to people who speak the language. So I would not criticise some awkward phrases in the subtitles as that just reflects the incompatibility between some languages. But, I welcome you pointing out bad grammer etc in the subtitles as it needs to be improved upon. But also remember that English is not the native language for anyone living in India.

    • If you actually read the post you might realize that I am not criticizing anything, just pointing out—celebrating in fact—how I enjoy the way language evolves and changes according to who is using it.

  60. Great collection of text bites and images :)

  61. I’ve always assumed that I was hearing archaic English, or if you will, Hinglish in Bollywood films. It seems to be Victorian and Edwardian words that have stuck since the dastardly ‘Britishers’ were chucked out (I speak as a Britisher myself, whose Victorian great-grandad served in the British Army in India. Not something I’m proud of…)

    Anyway, my theory is proven by the use of ‘thrice’ in Hinglish, which sounds really quaint and old-fashioned. No-one uses it in England any more.
    Can I just say how very much I love and adore ‘mention not’, I’m going to use it as much as I can from now on.

    Oh, and as for ‘tight slap’ I’m sorry to say I’ve never heard it in the UK.

    ‘Isn’t it’ is used all the time in London, where I live, but it has been contracted to ‘innit’. “That’s a sick pair of trainers, innit.”

    • That’s an appropriate use of “isn’t it” (contracted or not)—but “isn’t it” is used in subtitles and spoken English even when in English the appropriate verb would be “doesn’t it” or “aren’t you” for example: “You are going home, isn’t it?”

      It’s a direct translation of “hai na” mostly I think :)

  62. I & my sons used to find it more hilarious reading translated subtitles of songs in hindi movies!

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