Indianisms, they do confuse the uninitiated!

Indianisms are phrases or words in English which are either Indian in origin or were created through a literal translation of a vernacular phrase.

These words or phrases are as often colourful as they are awkward. Some of them come so naturally to us that picking them out of our work is quite a task. In speech, these words or phrases have become a part of the language-scape. It might not be easy to stop saying but I’m saying that only no!

One should use common words to say uncommon things. ~ Arthur Schopenhauer Click To Tweet 

When you’re writing though, Indianisms stand out like sore thumbs to those who aren’t accustomed to them. With the worldwide web opening up the world, it makes sense to use language that everyone understands without ambiguity.

Some Indianisms to watch out for are:

Do the needful:

The person who urges you to do the needful is requesting you to do everything that needs to be done to accomplish a task or job. The clunky phrase is often used in the bureaucratic circles. It covers all situations from “Please fix the road in front of my house that I have written three letters about already” to “Please direct the accounts department to process my payment so that it is released as soon as possible”. Do the needful covers a multitude of requirements. A colorful phrase, but one which would confuse for a non-Indian reader. It is best avoided.

Passing Out:

In normal English, passing out will render you immobile for a few minutes—because you would have fainted. In Indian English when you are passing out you are graduating from a course you have been pursuing at school or college. The widely dissimilar implications of the phrase are bound to trip up the unwary non-Indian reader.

A writer's goal is to weave the ordinary into fine silk and the truly extraordinary into diaphanous clarity ... ~ CJ Heck Click To Tweet 

Order For:

How many times have you heard (and said), “Hey, let’s order for some Chinese food!” when you actually just want to order some Chinese food? This phrase is used so often it has become ingrained in everyday vocabulary. Another similar phrase is “Let’s plan out something!” meaning, “Let us make a plan (to meet)”. The extra for and out in these two phrases can be dropped easily without requiring any changes in the sentence construction.

Kindly Revert:

The dictionary meaning to the word revert is: return to (a previous state, practice, topic, etc.). Kindly revert or please revert or the absolute cringe-worthy kindly revert back—therefore turns your request for a reply into a request for the recipient to turn into an ape or a tadpole—depending on how far back you want to go. Not really polite, you know. Live and let live, right?

What’s wrong with saying “I hope to hear from you soon” or even “Please reply at your earliest”?

“ is precisely because the world appears to us to be multiple, ambiguous, and paradoxical, that we must strive to speak and write clearly. ~ Mark Dintenfass Click To Tweet 

Do One Thing:

Consider the following exchange.

“I went to meet the professor but he refused to let me submit my assignment because I was a few minutes late to class! I don’t know what to do now!”

“Do one thing. Go and meet him tomorrow morning. He will be in a better mood tomorrow because it is his daughter’s birthday.”

Do one thing is a literal translation from the vernacular. In this context, a non-Indian(ism) way would be:

“I have an idea. Go and meet him tomorrow morning. He will be in a better mood tomorrow because it is his daughter’s birthday.”

So much better, admit it!


Anything that kills time in a frivolous, vaguely silly manner or is a guilty pleasure—like watching 5-minute Craft videos on YouTube for hours on end without following a single tip demonstrated—is a timepass. If someone’s feedback goes, Oh, just timepass, it is probably not worth investing your time in.

It's up to the artist to use language that can be understood, not hide it in some private code. ~ Robert A. Heinlein Click To Tweet 


In the Indian context, mugging causes no bloodshed or loss of money. It refers to rote learning or memorizing by heart. The intense ritual of committing to memory originates from Vedic times when scholars were required to learn the scriptures by rote because the entire body of Vedic knowledge was orally propagated for nearly 4000-years. The word cramming, used by scholars worldwide would not really cover it. It has no room to accommodate the constant swaying back and forth which accompanies a cramming activity like learning the multiplication tables. That can only be contained in mugging. However, for the sake of clarity and as a gesture of kindness to your international readers, perhaps cramming—though it is a pale substitute—might be a better word to use.

What’s your good name?

This is supposed to be a literal translation from the vernacular, but it isn’t even that. The word shubh (auspicious) has been translated to good in this phrase. A translation is bad enough, an incorrect translation is worse. On the other hand,  saying What’s your auspicious name would be an absolute horror! The usage might be something all Indians can understand, but surely other people would find it confusing. If you wish to be polite and ask someone their name for the umpteenth time (or even the first time) it is best to say, “I’m sorry, may I know your name?” Or “I’m really sorry, I seem to have forgotten your name…!” As they say, the sweetest sound in any language is one’s own name. Most people are happy to tell it to you as many times as you like!

When the meaning is unclear there is no meaning. ~ Marty Rubin Click To Tweet

Which Indianisms do you use most often? Have you made a conscious effort to ease them out of your spoken and written vocabulary? Do let us know in the comments below!