“The limits of my language,” the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once posited, “mean the limits of my world.” And India is big. Very big. The Map showing the languages spoken by the People of Indian States. This map is a bit outdated. But it’s a good indication of the levels of linguistic diversity in India, which speaks about 780 languages total, and has lost 220 in the past fifty years.
So words that mean well in Delhi might just start a fight in another. Who knows when you might end up in jail for saying something inappropriate. And the funny part is that you won’t even know why. Many of India’s biggest cities are in states where Hindi does not dominate. Here are some examples:
- “Dabba” = Box > But in the state of Karnataka “Dabba” means “waste” or “dumb”. The #ShareMyDabba campaign would not be so remarkable in that case.
- “Naayi” = Haircutter > But in the Tamil language “Naayi” means “dog”. Appropriate for the Naayis who spoil your hairstyle.
- “Kundi” = Door Latch > But in the Malayalam language in Kerala and in the Tamil language “Kundi” means “Buttock”.
But Hindi is not the only language in India. Some words from various Indian languages have multiple meanings:
- “Munda” in the Punjabi language means “Boy” > But in the Telugu language “Munda” means “Prostitute”. Ooops!
- “Ammi” in the Urdu language, an official language of six Indian states, means “Mother” > But in the state of Karnataka “Ammi” is the slang word for “Breasts”. Ouch!