A Glossary
of Hindustani - Urdu - Hindi
words to be found in Kipling's works

by Michael Smith

As a result of enquiries about Kipling's use of the vernacular in some of his stories and poems, it seems appropriate to examine, more closely, the languages he used and the meanings of those words. It is a subject which has intrigued since the earliest days of the Society.

Whilst some of the published works contain glossaries relating specifically to words used in particular stories or poems, not all do so.
In The Kipling Journal No 3, September 1927 a Glossary of Hindustani words he used was published by W.G.B.Maitland, later to become the Editor of the Journal. It was fairly brief because at that time the Uncollected and Rarely Collected Verse had not been brought together, and they contain a much wider selection. Professor Pinney's Kipling's India, the wonderful collection of Kipling's prose written between 1884 and 1888 has a more extensive glossary. This contains, in addition, Anglo-Indian phrases.

The Society's Reader's Guide Vol I includes many of the words and those relevant to Kim are included in the Penguin edition of the book with the Introduction by Edward Said. Rudyard Kipling's own works also contain glossaries relating specifically to the book in question. The aim, here, is to bring them all under one umbrella.

John Whitehead's Rudyard Kipling - Mrs Hauksbee & co. contains a glossary which additionally includes a number of useful definitions of terms familiar to Anglo-Indians.

Kipling's generation of Anglo-Indians were familiar with "Hindustani", a term now out of favour, having been superceded to some extent by "Hindi" and "Urdu". Hindustani is the major dialect of Hindi which is spoken throughout Northern India. It belongs to the Indic branch of Indo-Iranian languages and is written Devanagari script. Urdu is a variety of Hindustani spoken by Muslims, and thus is the official language of Pakistan. It is written in a Persian (Arabic) script and contains many Farsi and Arabic words. But, of course, there are a multitude of other, related, domestic languages used throughout the sub-continent, although Hindi and Urdu are the most widely used. English, introduced in earlier centuries still acts as a cohesive medium.

The English soldiery, however, managed to impose charming, inventive but occasionally fractured variations of many of the words, something Kipling managed to introduce very effectively in such poems as "Gunga Din".

I am indebted to those who contributed to the Mailbase Forum on the subject, especially Michael Jefferson and Sir George Engle , to George Webb who produced an Introduction and Glossary in his book (with Sir Hugh Cortazzi) Kipling's Japan [Athlone 1988] to Sharad Keskar, Roger Ayers and John Morgan. I hope that the result of our combined efforts will prove of use to those who enjoy reading about Kipling's India. The Glossary which follows may well be incomplete and at times, in error, but I hope that it will prove of interest to Kipling enthusiasts wherever they are. Corrections and emendations will always be welcomed.


Original Glossary - K.J. No 3 pp 28 - 30 October 1927 Maitland,W.G.B , Correspondence re incorrect translation of "ferao" in No 4. Accepted !

Mac Munn, Lt Gen Sir George.,K.J. No 57 pp 6 - 9 April 1941 Kipling's Hindustani

Islam, Shamsul. K.J. No 171 pp 15 - 19 September 1969 Kipling's use of Indo-Pakistani Languages, Correspondence re the above in Nos 172 & 174

Yule,H. & Burnell, A.C. Hobson-Jobson - the Anglo-Indian Dictionary Wordsworth Reference 1996 (ISBN 1 - 85326-363) This wonderful "spice-box of etymological curiosities and colourful expressions" was first published in 1886. It was also published by Routledge & Keegan Paul in 1968

Michael Smith, Dec 1999 Click here for the glossary