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The English in your Malayalam

Office becomes ‘aapis’. Bribe becomes ‘something’, as in ‘something kodukendi varum’ – you will have to give something/bribe.

September 25, 2021 / 07:22 AM IST
Based on context and how they are pronounced, words like super/soopurr take on different meanings in Malayalam.

Based on context and how they are pronounced, words like super/soopurr take on different meanings in Malayalam.

A little English in your Malayalam is like adding a bit of non, which is what Keralites call their meat dishes as it is short for non-vegetarian, to a bland, bland diet. ‘Njan non kazhikilla,’ they say, mixing their languages but not their herbivorous and carnivorous diets.

Office becomes ‘aapis’ as in ‘aapis pooti’, which only means the business has gone into red with ‘pooti’ standing for ‘locked’. Bribe becomes ‘something’ as in ‘something kodukendi varum’ – you will have to give something/bribe. ‘Comaly’ is a corruption for comedy, but used derogatorily for a person of nonsensical properties, as in ‘ayyal comaly’, while ‘wit’ is a person who is very funny, as in ‘bhayankara witta’. ‘Boran’ is a boring guy, ‘madama’ is a city girl and neither is a compliment.

If ‘soap adikka’ is to suck up to someone, then ‘stunt adi’ is to start a fight. ‘Plate maata’ is to change your view or words, while ‘number erakka’ or just ‘oru number’ is to use a trick. A bad singer is dismissed with 'tune illa', and ‘nammude party’ is ‘our man’. ‘Enikku oru demand illa’, says the man who feels overlooked, as in everyone is ignoring him, or maybe he is clarifying that he would never ask for a dowry.

‘Type’ is used in many versions: ‘Njan aa type alla’ is a vain declaration of self-virtue, ‘ayyal oru type’ or ‘oru prityeka type’ is all code for a ‘weirdo’. ‘Call adichu’ is a minor lottery of sorts or at least that the girl is looking back at the guy when he is busy ‘line adikkals’ or flirting. ‘Knack ilya’ is when you don’t have the skill for this or that job. ‘Grand sambhavam’ is when a huge event takes place somewhere and you can even sum it up as ‘grand aayee!’

‘Fresh aayeettu vaayo,’ a traveller is told – to freshen up, basically. ‘Tip aayee’ is after the said traveller has obeyed and come back all glowing from the bath. ‘Tight’ is the person who is broke and ‘fit’ is the person who drank too much.


People ask for ‘strong chaaya’ (black tea perhaps or a kattan). While ‘super’ is used in a positive way – pronounced ‘soopurr’ – ‘best’ is used as sarcasm, as in ‘adu best’. For instance, ‘best party’ only talks about an entirely wrong person. A friend who was stood up can call the friend who did the ditching ‘best party!’ Someone is said to have head weight because it is the direct translation of thala kanam – and conveys arrogance. ‘Power’ too means arrogance, but it also means electricity, derived from ‘power cut’ – so ‘power illa’ is when you have to light candles at home. 'Jam' is traffic jam, as in 'jamil pettu'.

But if you use too many hush-push or fancy words, then someone is wont to say, ‘Over aavalle!’ ‘Over’ here standing for ‘too much’! ‘Over aayee poyo?’ asks the ham – have I overdone the act? Which is what Malayalam, after consuming too many English words and happily Malayalamising them over time, should be asking the latter.
Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is the co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival.
first published: Sep 25, 2021 07:22 am

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