My wife and I often do crossword puzzles in the evening, and recently we ran across the clue “chuddar.” We thought it might be a misprint, but I looked it up in the American Heritage Dictionary (which happened to be handiest), and there it was:
chuddar (chŭd’ər) 1. A chador. 2. A cotton shawl traditionally worn in India by men and women. [Urdu chaddar, cloth, from Sanskrit chattram, screen, parasol, from chadati, he covers, protects.]
There are several problems here. To dispose of the minor ones: it seems arbitrary to call chaddar “Urdu” when it is common Hindustani (the OED, equally arbitrarily, calls it “Hindi”), and there is no Sanskrit verb “chadati” except in dictionaries—the present tense of the root chad- ‘cover’ is chādayati. With that out of the way, my main concern is the relations between (or, if you prefer, among) this Hindi/Urdu word, the alleged Sanskrit etymon, and the Persian word چادر chādorchador.’ (Another complicating factor is that Steingass’s Persian-English Dictionary has an entry chaddar ‘A sheet; a table-cloth; a veil’ which I assume is borrowed from Urdu—it is not in any of my Persian dictionaries—and Platt’s Dictionary of Urdu, Classical Hindi, and English has ćādar ‘A sheet; a table-cloth; a covering; [etc.],’ but that is marked as a borrowing from Persian.)
It seems extremely unlikely that chādor and chaddar are unrelated, but it also seems unlikely that one is directly derived from the other, or that the Persian word is from Sanskrit. The Platts entry for chaddar marks it with “H” for Hindi but adds “(P[ersian] ćādar, ćadar; prob. akin to S[anskrit] छद्),” which seems to hedge all bets, and the Steingass entry for chādar (sic; modern dictionaries give chādor) gives no indication that it is anything but native Persian. The OED’s etymology for chuddar says simply “Hindi chadar a square piece of cloth,” with no attempt at deriving the Hindi word from Sanskrit or anything else. Vasmer‘s entry for the Russian word чадра [chadra] ‘veil’ says it’s borrowed from Turkic and suggests that we compare шатер [shatyor] ‘tent,’ which he says is an ancient borrowing from Turkic, adding “Первоисточником является перс. čаtr ‘заслон, палатка’, др.-инд. chattram ‘заслон’ [the original source is Pers. čаtr ‘screen, tent’, Skt. chattram ‘screen’],” muddying the waters even further. If anybody has any information that would help in clearing up this etymological morass, please share it.
Update. See this 2012 post for more on the topic.


  1. A fascinating wade into the etymological swamp, but one even more important question is left unanswered: what was the solution to the crossword clue.
    Should there not be a standard form of reporting crossword clues that includes either the number of letters in the solution, or the “in_om_l_ te” answer showing the letters provided by other solutions.
    Here in the land of the cryptic crossword
    “Indian had curd mixed to cover head” or “Indian had card shuffled to cover head” would clue nicely for chuddar and chaddar.

  2. Have we ruled out Arabic? Obviously no [ch], but j-d-r is ‘to behoove, to befit, to be appropriate’ according to Wehr. A substantized active participle would be jadir, an ‘appropriate-maker’ which would give a logical sense for a veil.
    So, jadir (Ar) –> chador (Per) –> chatir (Chagh) –> shatyor (Rus).

  3. Also, having looked at the OED definition, I think this just may be a case of a poorly transcribed foreign word. If you see the example they give of a “chuddah-shawl” it really looks like an Anglo speaker was just pronouncing ‘chador’ in their own unrhoticized way.

  4. Perhaps only adding to the morass, page 403 of Clauson’s “Etymological Dictionary of Pre-13th Century Turkish, column two, provides:
    “ça:tır”: a loan-word ultimately derived from Sanskrit “chattra”, “a (royal) umbrella”; this meaning, for which “çowa:ç”, q.v., is an alternative, has survived sporadically but the usual meaning is a (canvas) tent. The channel through which the word reached Turkish with this change of meaning is uncertain, prob. some Iranian language.
    The entry goes on to give various early examples from various published texts.

  5. It’s been a while now, but I don’t think offhand that Persian ch would correspond to Sanskrit ch; I thought Iranian languages did funky things with their affricates. I won’t have access to the relevant books until next week so I’ll leave it up to someone else to check.

  6. Wörter und Namen gleicher Herkunft und Struktur : Lexikon etymologischer Dubletten im Deutschen, an interesting idea in its own right, s.v. Schatjor, covers pretty much the same ground, but, if I make it out right, adds that čatur ‘Zelt’ was in Pahlavi, which pushes that back a little. I don’t find it in the small dictionaries I have immediate access to, though.

  7. … Persian ch would correspond to Sanskrit ch …
    Sanskrit चतुर catur (Hindi चार cār) = Pahlavi čahār (Modern Persian چهار), right?
    And from words listed above, छत्त्र = چتر ‘umbrella’.

  8. i am not a linguist, but being Indian, and having studied Hindi and Sanskrit, I could not help commenting.
    The Hindi word chhat, meaning roof, comes directly from the Sanskrit chattam [ as i remember my high school texts]. chaddar and chadar and chador, are diffrences of accent in diffrent regions of India, Hindi being a highly phonetic language. The correct pronunciation would be chadar, with accent on the first a. And it would be mean a bedsheet.
    As far as I know[ highschool history], Hindi and Urdu are sister languages which developed side-by-side. They share words indiscriminately, that is why Indians and Pakistanis understand each other so well. Urdu was developed from Persian, and Hindi from Sanskrit, as the languages of the masses under the mughal rule in India in the 16th century.
    Maybe you know all this, but I just couldn’t help it.

  9. I posted this earlier too, but that post hasn’t come up.
    A Muslim woman’s veil, i.e. in Urdu is called chaadar, a Hindu woman’s veil, on the other hand, would be a ghoonghat, and not a chaadar.

  10. Thanks, Iva!

  11. As a Pakistani-American, here’s my input:
    No one in India or Pakistan refers to their tongue as ‘Hindustani’ (an umbrella term that is arbitrary in itself). Even if they did, the term is as offensive as the “Indian subcontinent,” because it favors India and Hindi and is not all-inclusive nominally.
    There is no difference between chador and chuddar and chadar. Hi, spelling variations? The root is Persian/Turkic, to the best of my knowledge. You must keep in mind the fact that Muslim women in south Asia primarily don CHADORS (not burqas, as some ignorant Westerners believe), and it’s less common among Hindu women in Indian.
    Probably why URDU was ‘arbitrarily’ selected in the first dictionary.

  12. No one in India or Pakistan refers to their tongue as ‘Hindustani’
    Not any more, but it was common before independence. At any rate, the term is not important so long as one recognizes that Hindi and Urdu share a history and a huge common lexicon.
    Hi, spelling variations?
    Sorry, but chādor is very different from chaddar (or “chuddar”). You can ignore the problem if you like, but that doesn’t solve it.

  13. Eskandar Jabbari says

    Have we ruled out Arabic? Obviously no [ch], but j-d-r is ‘to behoove, to befit, to be appropriate’ according to Wehr. A substantized active participle would be jadir, an ‘appropriate-maker’ which would give a logical sense for a veil.
    I think we can safely rule out Arabic, or at the very least, rule out the j-d-r root, as chādor literally means “tent,” not “veil.” If you were to talk about going camping in Persian, you would use the word chādor the same as if you were discussing the religious garment.

  14. Indian Subcontinent
    I was participating in a discussion about this very term recently among people from some of the countries in that area. When Pakistan comprised two wings flanking India it made sense to say ‘Indo-Pak Subcontinent’. Now you’d have to say ‘Indo-Pak-Bangladesh’ – and why stop there? What about Sri Lanka, Nepal or Bhutan (or even Kashmir)?
    Ideally we should refer to The Subcontinent (but saying ‘The Gulf’ doesn’t keep everyone happy either!).

  15. Additionally, ‘khaddar’ is Telugu for ‘khaadi’, that homespun cotton cloth that was a political statement back in Mahatma Gandhi’s time. (NOT implying it’s an etymological _root_ of course)
    Saif: ‘South Asia’ when I’m talking with my Pakistani/Bangladeshi/Sri Lankan/Maldives-ian friends, ‘jambudvipa’ (The Peninsula, in arcane Sanskrit) with all the rest. 🙂
    Additionally, I’ve seen the adjective ‘Indic’ being used for South-Asian-related things. I understand it is more inclusive than merely ‘Indian’, which would refer to the Republic of India specifically.

  16. The excellent Mohammed Abbas Hussein of Karachi uses ‘desi,’ but that’s a bit informal.

  17. Siganus Sutor says

    My daughter used to wear a churidar, a black and red one, and it wasn’t just some sort of tight trousers as Wikipedia suggests. Maybe a local variation of the word…

  18. Tony Collmann says

    Just to lower the tone completely, the chuddar/chador cloth/covering/sheet theme makes me wonder if there is any link to the Hindi word chuddi, meaning underpants, now made famous by the expression “kiss my chuddies” from the BBV TV series Goodness Gracious Me …

  19. A churidar is a sort of tight pants. Churi means bangles, and refers to the way it bunches up on the legs.
    Chuddi…I don’t know, but the Hindi slang for vagina is chut, maybe a reference to that?

  20. The Platt’s entry makes the most sense to me.
    Here’s what MacDonell’s Sanskrit dictionary says about ‘chhad’:
    छद (p. 096) cover; covering; wing; leaf
    Pali has a word that comes closer. Pali Text Society’s dictionary
    Chada [cp. chādeti chad=saŋvaraṇe Dhtp 586] anything that covers, protects or hides, viz. a cover, an awning
    It’s not entirely unlikely that the current ‘chaadar’ (चादर) or ‘chaddar’ (चद्दर) in Hindi/Urdu trace back to two origins. Like the word – ‘naam’ (नाम) meaning ‘name’.
    Disclaimer: IANAL[inguist]

  21. Siganus Sutor says

    Iva: I don’t know, but the Hindi slang for vagina is chut, maybe a reference to that?
    Only if it smells (or taste) vanilla. Or if the word has been coined by a Freudian (you know, these people who see something s▄xual in nearly everything in this world).
    Re: churidar. It seems to me that here in Mauritius the word is used for the whole garment*, which is never worn by men — at least not by those who would be described as “normal” men. But since I am a man (a rather conformist one I presume), and a man who is not especially interested in clothing items, I should ask a few women about it. But tomorrow only as the time has come to go under the chador (or chadar), i.e. the bed sheet according to what you said two days ago.
    * from French garnement, but probably not from this naughty one though

  22. Iva:
    Re. chaDDii (चड्डी), I don’t know how it came into being, but it certainly has no relation to the c-word.
    chuu.Diidaar (चूड़ीदार) is actually an adjective, a specifier, for anything having circular, ring-like patterns. It literally means that. chu.Dii (चूड़ी) is bangle and chuu.Diidaar means bangle-like. It is, however, used mostly for pyjamas (पायजामा) with such patterns to the extent that using it as a noun exlusively mean chuu.Didaar Pyjamas in most places. But let me tell you that they are popular not only amongst women, but men too and pretty conformist ones at that :). Also, there are chu.Didaar kurtaas (कुर्ता), which have such patterns in their arms, that normally are worn by men.

  23. In fact, chuddies in the Compact Oxford English Dictionary does propose chador as the etymon. It isn’t in the full OED yet. Perhaps they fast-tracked some Hinglish in the more popular dictionary for marketing purposes. Those Goodness Gracious Me characters are supposed to be Punjabi, aren’t they?
    The Encyclopaedia Iranica has a nice long article on čādor, giving a pre-Islamic history. And it says, “The etymology of the word is unknown; connection with Indian chattra “parasol” is uncertain (cf. čatr).” There’s even a second article on čādor ‘tent’.

  24. Thanks! The EI is about as authoritative as we’re going to get, I think. (Too bad I’m seeing it with a lot of weird characters…)

  25. They have their own font.

  26. Matthew Carter says

    Has anyone else run across the anti-Yale in-joke in the AHD (a Harvard production)? Just look up “anticlimax”!

  27. Heh. Thanks for calling it to my attention:
    3. A sudden descent in speaking or writing from the impressive or significant to the ludicrous or inconsequential, or an instance of it: “Waggish non-Yale men never seem weary of calling ‘for God, for Country and for Yale’ the outstanding single anticlimax in the English language” (Time).

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