English Phrases Used Only By Indians.

The title’s an exaggeration (“do the needful” is not restricted to Indian English, and “first-class” is reasonably common elsewhere), but the piece is funny, and the (unrelated except for linguistic humor) illustrations are hilarious: Rutu Ladage’s “English Phrases Used Only By Indians Which The World Knows Nothing About,” from India Times.

Vaguely related, in the sense that one language is making odd use of another: there is a Latin tag “Lingua latina non penis canina” (“The Latin language is not a dog’s penis”) that appears to exist only in Russian. I have no idea how this came about, but there’s an entire Lurkomore article on it (which starts by claiming it comes from medieval nerds; for Lurkomore, see this LH post).


  1. The “Russian Latin” meme is a back-translation from Russian, spiced up and made a rhyme by a gender inconsistency. It means that the subject your studies isn’t easy to master.

  2. “subject of your studies”, of course. BTW have you noticed how indignant are the comments to the “India Times” piece? The readers point out that many of the cited constructs are straight out of XVIII c. British use and/or the Raj realities, which anyhow makes them not worth a smile :). And the author is too young to know it and needs some dribbling. Etc. I guess the readers of the paper take pride in their English being the best in the world where the folks in the UK have corrupted their original usage over time.

  3. The “Russian Latin” meme is a back-translation from Russian, spiced up and made a rhyme by a gender inconsistency.

    Ah, thanks very much! So much for the medieval nerds…

  4. My department has a lot of international students from India, and a lot of other students who’ve never heard someone say “I have a doubt / some doubts”, which means plenty of opportunity for people to take offense at comments like “I have a doubt about your problem set solution”.

    That one never bothered me, but the first time my officemate told me to stop cribbing, I was pretty indignant until we figured out we just had different definitions for the word and that he wasn’t accusing me of plagiarism.

    I am now used to those, but still notice “very less”, which seems to be much more of a common phrase among Indian students than US.

  5. To be more specific, the Russian phrase “не хуй собачий” is fairly common when describing things that are not understood to be easy.

  6. Ага, спасибо.

  7. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    I thought that only yesterday I had been asked to do the needful by an Indian author (the letter wasn’t addressed to me, but was passed on to me by a journal that wants me to handle the paper in question). However, on checking I see that I remembered wrongly,and the letter doesn’t use that expression (though possibly I read it somewhere else yesterday). However, it does end with “Kindly send our manuscript to appropriate reviewers and oblige.” I’ve only ever met “and oblige” before in usage notes telling people not to use it, so that is my first live specimen. It’s clearly a polite formula of some kind, but I’m baffled as what it means, whether literally or figuratively. Any ideas? Should it be understood as “Kindly oblige us by sending our manuscript to appropriate reviewers”?

  8. Yes, it seems pretty straightforwardly equivalent to that; a spoken (and less deferential) equivalent would be “…and be a good chap.”

  9. When I worked for a certain well-known science journal we used to get quite a few submissions from India, which often ended with the phrase “Kindly do the needful and oblige.” This always made me laugh because of the rhythm of the phrase — it wants to dance a little jig.

  10. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    If I remember rightly a “dog’s cock” is standard typesetters’ slang for an exclamation mark. Curious, because they don’t seem to resemble one another.

  11. We called it a “bang” back when I was a proofreader.

  12. Hence :- is the dog’s bollocks

  13. In the original article, he says:

    Passing out of college

    The normal world uses ‘graduation’ or ‘convocation’. Indian English makes it, “I passed out of my college.” If you pass out in the US or Australia or the UK, you would probably be rushed to a hospital, not lauded.

    Depends on the context. “Passing out” from a military college is a perfectly normal expression in the UK and Australia – graduating from Sandhurst or Duntroon, for example where they have a “Passing Out Parade”.

  14. “Passing Out Parade”
    Latin-inspired “graduation” is only a norm in a small subset of cultures. The Germans would probably use abschluss, and the Russians, выпуск, lit. “issuing out of…”. So the classic English form may have reflected the European norm before and “graduation”, a highbrow Latin fad?

  15. John Emerson says

    “Lingua latina non penis canina” is obviously a debate topic. In many respects the latin language IS a dog’s penis.

  16. I just stumbled on a delightful Indian English eggcorn in an article on geopolitics: “dream cum true”. (Don’t google it, though.)

  17. David Marjanović says

    In many respects the latin language IS a dog’s penis.

    That, however, would be penis caninus.

  18. In Denmark, you will either be dimitted or translocated after sixth form (γυμνάσιον) — I think translocation was used until it was clear that most students weren’t entering university. On the other hand most vocational colleges have been promoted to universities now, so maybe the balance has swung back.

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