The invaluable Dialect Blog had a post last year featuring a fifteen-minute film “created from outtakes of The End of the Raaj, a recent documentary about the Anglo-Indian community. This snippet discusses the Anglo-Indian dialect, and the various words and terms associated with this sub-culture.” It’s a lot of fun to see how much people enjoy talking about the words and phrases they associate with their in-group; I say “they associate” because many of the terms are actually not dialect-specific at all, like “His eyes are bigger than his stomach,” but of course others are, and it’s funny to see the filmmaker add his best guesses as to the spelling, often with a couple of question marks, as intertitles. My thanks to R Devraj for reposting it at his blog Dick & Garlick, since I missed it at Dialect Blog; if he sees this, let me implore him to add name/URL capability to his comment setup, since I am unable to leave a comment using the awful Google/Blogger system currently in place (and I’m sure I’m not the only one).


  1. Thanks! I’m going to send this link to my Anglo-Indian Dad and to my cousin in Bangalore to get their reactions to it.

  2. ‘His eyes are bigger than his stomach’ is an interesting wording. I was brought up on ‘His eyes are bigger than his belly’.

  3. I always heard “stomach”, but I also agree with the comments on the Dialect Blog page which say that it’s not uniquely A-I – it’s more a Brit/Commonwealth English thing than specifically A-I, I’d say. At the very least, it’s common in NZE.

  4. This eye-stomach match-up made me curious. There is literally the same saying in Russian, and both of our grannies (from Vladimir and Yaroslavl) used it to admonish grandchildren for wasting food by putting too much on their plates.
    But on the Internet, most sources say that the Russian глаза больше живота is a faulty translation from English / French / Italian, and that in those WE languages the meaning may be “to be greedy or envious”, properly put into Russian as глаза завидущие [а руки загребущие]. It’s almost inconceivable to me that both grandmothers would have learned a mistranslated foreign phrase. Does it mean that it is a native regional usage in Russian?

  5. both of our grannies (from Vladimir and Yaroslavl) used it to admonish grandchildren for wasting food by putting too much on their plates.
    That is exactly how my mother used it.

  6. The saying Your eyes are/were bigger than your stomach is very familiar to my AmE-speaking (three different dialects) family. It describes either of two situations: you have put more food on your plate than you can eat, or you have eaten more food than you can comfortably hold. In any case, this is certainly greed: none of us recognize it as a phrase for envy.
    Belly was semi-taboo or fully taboo in AmE for many years, the same period which popularized limb for leg and white meat for breast (of poultry, not primates). Even now, it has a certain low connotation, though it is recognized as more accurate than stomach in the sense ‘abdomen’. We haven’t heard this word in the saying.

  7. What John Cowan said. It’s completely naturalized (in the “stomach” wording) in the U.S., and it means exactly what the Russian equivalent does. My mother said it frequently (though she was often wrong in my case, since in my young youth I had almost infinite capacity).

  8. My mother and grandmother would also say ‘Oh, the blessed (two syllables) thing!’ and it meant ‘the damned thing!’
    No India connection in my family; my grandmother was from Devon and Kent.

  9. Indeed, not a blessèd thing and not a damned thing mean the same thing. In Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series, two clone brothers (they’re both vertically challenged; one is also horizontally challenged) are referred to in jest as the Chance brothers, Slim and Fat.

  10. michael farris says

    I once had a co-worker (from Tennessee) who would say ‘to bless someone out’ instead of ‘curse/cuss someone out’.

  11. I hadn’t come across the ‘your eyes are bigger than your stomach’ thing before in Ireland. I say ‘belly’, mostly to avoid this sort of thing (all my peers say ‘tummy’), and am quizzically amused to learn of its having been semi-taboo in US usage.

  12. Aidan, I suspect that the fact of a word being English is enough to mark it as crude and barbarous in Ireland. No need to single “belly” out.
    AmE – I have heard the expression used metaphorically, as in describing someone taking on too big a task for the credit he expected to get from it.

  13. Jim: Why no: consider tundish.

  14. —Is that called a tundish in Ireland? asked the dean. I never heard the word in my life.
    —It is called a tundish in Lower Drumcondra, said Stephen laughing, where they speak the best English.
    —A tundish, said the dean reflectively. That is a most interesting word. I must look that word up. Upon my word I must.

  15. APRIL 13. That tundish has been on my mind for a long time. I looked it up and find it English and good old blunt English too. Damn the dean of studies and his funnel! What did he come here for to teach us his own language or to learn it from us? Damn him one way or the other!

  16. What’s a “tundish”. Is it a platter you cut out of the bottom of a barrel, like one those shallow tubs you work sushi rice in?
    Or is it a dialect form of “turdish”, a dish you turn several times to get it to brown evenly while it’s in the oven?

  17. Jim: Follow my link.

  18. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I guessed it before I looked it up. That’s pretty good, for me.

  19. Looking through Bardsley’s English Surnames (1915 edition at Internet Archive, 1901 edition at Google Books) on an entirely different errand, I ran across the following: “A vintner went commonly by the name of a wine tunner, tunner itself being the ordinary term for one engaged in casking liquor. ‘Tun’ rather than ‘barrel’ was in use. […] Thus have arisen such words as ‘tunnel’ or ‘tun-dish,’ the vessel with broad rim and narrow neck, used for transferring the wine from cask to bottle.”

  20. I guessed it, too.
    My son read Portrait in school this year, and it seems that he read it quite thoroughly. His way of coming up with off the top of his head page references in in-class discussions became a running joke. I’ll ask him what he remembers of “tundish”.

  21. Back to those eyed which are bigger than one’s stomach – perhaps meaning misjudged appetites for something to fill the actual stomach with, or perhaps a more wide-reaching metaphor for envy of all sorts.

    My question is about being envious vs. jealous. I always thought that it was a shibboleth of sorts … as in, if one uses “jealous” to mean “envious”, then the speaker must be Russian. But it appears that the interchangeable use of the two words may be common among the Anglo’s, too? At least judging by the effort the dictionaries and proper-language-use-help sites put into explaining that the two words don’t really mean the same.

    What’s the situation with the merger of meanings of envious / jealous? Is it recent? Is it becoming acceptable? Should I keep holding my tongue when tempted to use, again, the word “jealous” when I just mean Russian “завидно” (~~ envious but not malevolently or corrosively so, sort of along the lines of “What a cool place you visited” / “What a great experience you had” / “How lucky you are” )

  22. No, that’s a very common usage in English, although the usual gang of peevers deprecate it every chance they get.

  23. I think that, in the majority of cases, “jealous” and “envious” are interchangeable in standard English. There are exceptions; for example, one can be jealous of something they already possess, but not envious. I personally use “jealous” in almost all cases where either word would be possible. I don’t know if this is a feature of my dialect or a personal idiosyncrasy. (I believe that, as a child, I learned the word “jealous” several years before learning “envious,” which could easily account for my usage pattern.)

  24. The dominant sense of jealousy in my usage is sexual jealousy: note that one may be jealous of one’s spouse or of the third party. (There is a Kipling story, “The Pit’s Mouth”, that begins “Once upon a time there was a Man and his Wife and a Tertium Quid.”) Envy I generally apply to persons in respect of objects. I may envy you for your large diamonds or ample spare time, or I may envy you simpliciter, without specifying any particular cause.

    Jealous and zealous are etymological doublets: different parts of the Bible speak of a jealous God and people who are zealous for God.

    Captain Wilson then entered into a detail of the duties and rank of every person on board of the ship […] . [I]f any error or breach of those articles [of war] was committed by any one belonging to the ship, if the senior officer did not take notice of it, he then himself committed a breach of those articles, and was liable himself to be punished, if he could not prove that he had not noticed it; it was therefore to save himself that he was obliged to point out the error; and if he did it in strong language, it only proved his zeal for his country [as had happened to Jack the day before].

    “Upon my honour, then,” replied Jack, “there can be no doubt of his zeal; for if the whole country had been at stake, he could not have put himself in a greater passion.”

    “Then he did his duty; but depend upon it it was not a pleasant one to him: and I’ll answer for it, when you meet him on board, he will be as friendly with you as if nothing had happened.”

    “He told me that he’d soon make me know what a first–lieutenant was: what did he mean by that?” inquired Jack.

    “All zeal.”

    “Yes, but he said, that as soon as he got on board, he’d show me the difference between a first–lieutenant and a midshipman.”

    “All zeal.”

    “He said my ignorance should be a little enlightened by–and–by.”

    “All zeal.”

    “And that he’d send a sergeant and marines to fetch me.”

    “All zeal.”

    “That he would put my philosophy to the proof.”

    “All zeal, Mr. Easy. Zeal will break out in this way; but we should do nothing in the service without it. Recollect that I hope and trust one day to see you also a zealous officer.”

    —Frederick Marryat, Mr. Midshipman Easy (italics in original)

  25. Lorna Brooks says

    My Mum uses an Anglo Indian (?) word to describe clothing that is a bit shabby, tatty or worn – dhuppa? Does anyone else know this term?

  26. @Lorna, from a contact who speaks a swag of Indian languages (she grew up in Southern India, then lived near Delhi):

    She’s never heard that word in that sense.

    There is a word dhuppā and variants that means sunshine.

    Your clothes have worn so thin I can see daylight through them?

  27. Dhoti?

  28. Hmm? Dhoti just means a specific piece of clothing, or the fabric it’s made from. No suggestion of shabby/tatty — although it’s usually the lower-class sort of person who wears one.

    (Channeling Inspector Ghote, who often observes some ne’er-do-well as wearing a “greasy dhoti”.)

  29. It’s a reach. It’s the closest I could find in Hobson-Jobson.

  30. “A pain in the duppa” seems to be a phrase; I can’t see anything specifically Anglo-Indian about it. I won’t provide links [offensive language warning]; neither can I tell where/what part of the body the pain is sited.

    Duppa is also an Indian family name. (Probably that’s an Anglicised spelling.) Most searches take me to super-dooper.

  31. David Marjanović says

    “A pain in the duppa” seems to be a phrase;

    Dupa means what you think it means in Polish.

  32. Which I didn’t realize had been borrowed into Southern Russian dialects, though of course it makes sense.

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