Wednesday, June 20, 2007


I learned a new word in Udhagamandalam (or Ooty as everybody called it): banian. It’s what the British call a vest and we a t-shirt. The sleeveless kind which I have also heard called a wife-beater. The etymology offered in the OED1 is: “a. Pg. banian, probably a. Arab. banyān (16th c.), ad Gujarāti vāṇiyo man of the trading caste, ad. Skr. vaṇij merchant ‘The terminal nasal may be taken from the plural form vāṇiyan’ (Col. Yule)”. From its primary meaning of ‘a Hindoo trader, especially one from the province of Guzerat’ to its later meaning of ‘a loose gown, jacket, or shirt of flannel, worn in India’. And, it yields banyan tree, its fifth meaning. So, its meaning changed in India. It went from a kind of dressing gown to a sleeveless undershirt. The first a is pronounced as a short a or schwa, per its Hindi or Sanskrit value, in spite of its length in Gujarati.

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