Simbly put. Malayalam from a humble Palindrome to a lot more.


English: Kerala map in Sanskrit

How much foreign invasion can one vernacular take? Turns out plenty if you look at Malayalam.

First take the corruptions: ‘saar’ from sir, ‘kaash’ from cash. With words like ‘boran’ for a bore and ‘shimmy’ for chemise, the etymology slip is showing. Watch out for translations, too. ‘Vaaya noki’ (a dedicated watcher of women) is ‘mouth-looker’ and ‘MLA’ (mouth looking agent). ‘Malayalam’ itself, as Malayalis never tire of saying, is a “back to front word”, like ‘Amma’ and ‘Hannah’, so you turn in the middle to left/right and arrive at the same word.

From describing complex situations to people’s mental state and even discussing the wardrobe, Malayalis seem to have given a quirky twist to English. ‘Plug adikya’ is fleecing juniors. And when a chat is interrupted, ‘relay vittu (gone)’ is the general summing up.

‘Father serious’ is dad unwell and ‘colour’ means ‘white skin’. A ‘pambara fool’ is so foolish he’s spinning like a top. ‘She is loose’ carries no moral subtext but denotes lunacy. ‘Her head is loose’ specifies where the ‘loose’ is located. A madman/madwoman is ‘vattu case’. ‘Shine cheyya’ is someone trying to take credit and ‘chethu plan’ is wonderful planning.

‘Fit aayee’ is the drunk after too many ‘smalls’ (small peg). Food shops are ‘bakeries’ and soft drinks ‘cool drinks’. ‘Cooling glass’ is, huh, sunglasses and ‘soda glasses’ spectacles. ‘Sight adi’ is winking but ‘blink-uss’ is someone stupefied.
‘Tune cheyya’ or ‘line adikka’ is a boy wooing. ‘Huss’ is husband, as in ‘what does your huss do?’ ‘Huss’ can become ‘hussy’, which is still husband. The lovelorn are ‘mood off’ and ‘senti/desp’. While ‘senti’ springs from ‘sentimental’, ‘desp’ interestingly is short for ‘depressed’ and not ‘desperate’ as the abbreviation may suggest.
‘You are a sadhanam,’ converts you, with all due disrespect, into a ‘thing’! An angry ‘Adichu ninde shape njan maatum’ means ‘I will beat you up’. A ‘number/trick’ is a ‘con’.

‘Churidar’ refers to salwar-kameez and rarely churidar-kurta and definitely not someone dressed only in the pajama half, happily topless. ‘Shawl’ is dupatta, ‘jacket’ blouse, and ‘nightie’ worn day and night. And never strive for the ‘ammachi look’; ‘ammachi’ stands for mother/aunt/neighborhood fatso. ‘Naadan beauty’ is a stunner of rural vintage but ‘madaamma’ puts on western airs.
Cutex is nail polish. ‘Blade’ is to be overcharged. ‘Best’ is said sarcastically; pronounced, ‘bestu’. ‘Badai parachil’ (talking big), ‘mittai’ (sweets) and ‘tukda job’ (petty employment) are from Hindi making us Mallu Singhs. ‘Plate maatti’ is ‘change opinion’.
About a missing person, a worrier says, ‘Oru addressum illa’ (not one address of him!) ‘Ayaal decent aanu’ (he is decent) is a character certificate and not to be confused with said man being adequately dressed. ‘Bhayankara’, which means ‘terrible’ elsewhere, connotes ‘great’ in this part of town. Bhayankara bhangi (beauty), bhayankara neram (colour/fair).

Personality traits are not spared. ‘Head-weight’ – ‘thala kanam’ – means a snob. ‘Posing’ is for show-offs. ‘Power’ means someone snooty, as in, ‘She has too much power’. ‘Ash-poosh’ people are high-society. The broke are ‘tight’ and a ‘waste’ is he who never did well for himself. But whatever be their bank balance all are ‘close’ when they die.

‘Wife house’ is wife’s house and ‘co-brother’ your husband’s brother-in-law. ‘He is a never-mind’ indicates a casual attitude. ‘Oru mind illa’ is not about the mindless, but rather a bad listener. ‘Ni mind cheyyenda’ means, ‘don’t bother/listen’.
‘Chammals’ means acute embarrassment, the ‘s’ at end giving it the necessary English twist; even said as, ‘I was chammified’. ‘He’s paavam’ is a simpleton. ‘Odukathe’ is a lovely exclamation, referring to ‘the very last’ act just before kicking the bucket; ‘His odukathe party!’ And ‘mungi nadakkals’ means a man staying out of sight.
‘Parcel’ is ‘takeaway’. ‘Stuck aayi’ is someone stuck. And one congratulates, saying: ‘Kalakki!’ (stirred), as in ‘kalakkan programme!’ ‘Adipoli’ and ‘ugran’ are variations on the celebratory theme; ‘adipoli company’ or ‘ugran acting’.
There’s no equivalent to ‘shut up!’ with only ‘verude/chumma iri’ (simply sit). So if you’ve been reading this with an increasingly disapproving frown, without feeling particularly enlightened linguistically or convinced about the research then ‘I’m being katthi’ (knife). Held you at knifepoint via relentless but useless info!

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