We again head south, leaving Afghanistan, crossing Pakistan, and on to India.
One of the largest and most populous countries in Asia, India has long been a major player on the international stage. This, combined with lengthy colonial ties to Great Britain, has seen the country have a considerable impact on the English language: from avatar to yoga, over the centuries English has adopted a great many words from India’s fascinating patchwork of languages.
Bandana, maharaja, guru, khaki, mantra and veranda, for instance, all derive from Hindi – as does the name of the cheetah, which, thanks to its mottled appearance, is probably a distant etymological cousin of another Hindi borrowing, chintz.
Where is Deolali, India? – Deolali, India Map – Deolali, India Map Download Free Photo Gallery
Thug, typhoon and cummerbund (which literally means ‘waistband’) are all Urdu in origin. Mango, teak and copra all come from Malayalam. Bandicoot literally means ‘pig-rat’ in Telugu. The original hot toddy was a Marathi word, tadi, for a kind of palm wine. And that glass of punch you had at your last office party takes its name from the Sanskrit word for ‘five’, panca – a reference to the drink’s original five ingredients: usually milk, curd, clarified butter, honey and sugar.
When it comes to words derived from Indian place names, we’re still spoilt for choice; there’s certainly a lot more to talk about here than just Darjeeling tea.
Calico cloth, for instance, takes its name from the Malabar port of Calicut, now Kozhikode, where European explorers first encountered it. The original dungarees were made from a coarser type of calico known as dungri, which in turn took its name from the suburb of Mumbai where it was made. A rider’s traditional jodhpur trousers take their name from the town of Jodhpur in Rajasthan. Dum-dum bullets, specialised projectiles manufactured with an exposed soft core that expands on impact, acquire their name from the town of Dum-Dum near Kolkata, which was once the site of a major local arsenal. And while the entire state of Bengal is namechecked in the origin of the bungalow (which literally means ‘Bengal-style house’), all of India lies at the etymological roots of both indigo dye (derived from a Greek word meaning ‘Indian’) and the tamarind (literally the ‘date of India’).
But we’ve not come all this way to talk about any of those. Instead, we’re here for an idiosyncratic and quintessentially British-sounding word for madness or muddle-headedness, whose story begins at a town not far inland from India’s west coast.
In 1861, a British military cantonment was established in Deolali, a small town in Maharashtra state, around a hundred miles east of Mumbai. British troops arriving in India would be taken to this camp to train and acclimatise, while ‘time-expired’ troops whose service was now complete would make the opposite journey, embarking from Deolali for Mumbai, before taking the long trip home to Blighty.
When the camp first opened in the mid nineteenth century, this exchange of personnel took place only during the winter and spring months, October to March, as the scorching summer heat and monsoons of early autumn made year-round transportation all but impossible. Places on the ships home were ultimately filled during the intervening months – but that meant that any soldier unfortunate enough to end his tour of duty in the spring would often have to wait until the end of the year to catch the first transport ship home. And for some, that long wait proved too much to bear.
Conditions in the camp were poor. Equipment was scarce, beds were infested with fleas, and the air was thick with mosquitoes. Malarial infections were common, but so too were grim venereal diseases spread via brothels in the surrounding towns and cities that were too close for some recruits to resist. Deolali ultimately established itself partly as military transit camp, and partly as military hospital. But all these factors together – combined with the unfamiliar culture, oppressive heat and sheer boredom of the long wait for repatriation – conspired to make it an uncomfortable and distressing place. Suicide rates among troops waiting to be sent home were high, while many other recruits spiralled into madness as they struggled to deal with the psychological aftermath of their military service and the dreadful conditions.
The camp’s association with both madness and mind-breaking boredom soon established itself in the minds of the nineteenth-century military. Its name, Deolali, became a synonym for the madness or derangement associated with it, while an invented disease, Deolali tap (‘tap’ being a local word for a fever), became a catch-all name for the psychological conditions that plagued the troops awaiting their transport home:
Time-expired men sent to Deolalie from their different units might have to wait for months before a troop-ship fetched them home [They] had no arms or equipment; they showed kit now and then and occasionally went on a route-march, but time hung heavily on their hands The well-known saying among soldiers when speaking of a man who does queer things, Oh he’s got the Doo-lally tap,’ originated
I think in the peculiar way men behaved owing to the boredom of that camp.
Doolally, a quirky anglicised form of Deolali, emerged in the early 1900s. Gradually, from its original associations with madness and insanity, its meaning became considerably looser and less serious over time, so that by the 1950s doolally was being used as another word for ‘eccentric’, ‘confused’ and even ‘drunk’, as well as ‘mad’ or ‘crazed’. But to most English speakers today it remains most closely associated with madness, and in particular a temporary state of madness or period of crazed, peculiar behaviour, seen in someone who is otherwise perfectly level-headed.
As a slang name for England or Great Britain, Blighty too has Indian origins. It derives from an Urdu word, vilayati, that literally means ‘foreign’, but was used by Urdu speakers in the nineteenth century for British or European people in particular. At its root is an Urdu word meaning ‘country’ or ‘dominion’, vilayet, which is itself of Arabic origin.
Maybe You Like Them Too
- Aman-i-Khas Ranthambore National Park, India
- Is India the World’s Unknown Beer Destination?
- Visit to India
- YOUR INDIA TRAVEL ORGANIZER
- Getting Around For India Travel