Treasure from India

During the heyday of Empire, when Queen Victoria was thrilled to style herself ‘Empress if India,’ many words from Indian languages entered the English language. Some were straightforward new words that described something hitherto unknown to the British, like bungalows, gymkhanas, pyjamas. Others have taken a slight twist.

Shampoo, for example, comes from the Hindi champo / champna and originally meant to massage or knead. The first shampoo (massage) parlour was opened in Britain by an Indian, who also opened the first curry house. But the term subsequently transferred to the liquid that was massaged into the hair during the washing process.

Loot (loads of money / ill-gotten gains / spoils of war) comes from the Hindi, lut, which referred to items stolen by marauding forces. Many of the stately homes of Britain, as well as museums, contain such items. They were often paid for – the proud new owner who brought them back from his time serving in India as a soldier or employee of the East India Company may well have bought them from the original thief them at specially arranged markets. But the lawful owner would not get a penny, and may well been killed trying to defend what was rightfully his. The looter himself literally didn’t give a dam (Hindi for a coin of very small value), about the morality of how he had acquired his spoils of war.

Portrait of Looty – Queen Victoria’s pet dog.

The Queen herself was not averse to receiving stolen goods, though probably didn’t see it that way – it was ‘her’ Empire, after all. In the 1850s she became the doting owner of a little Pekinese dog that was stolen from the Chinese. With remarkable insouciance, even for those days, it was called ‘Looty.’

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