Boys' Foreign-Language Clothing Glossary: Anglo-Indian English Language Terms

Figure 1.--.

Many English people were enamored by the exotic sights, tastes, and smells of India, the jewl in the British crown. One of the activities they encountered in India was a huge garment/cloth industry. England at the time they seized control of India froim the French and Moguls was just beginning the industrail revolution. English mills were to drive the Indian garment./fabric infistries to bankruptsy, but still large numbers of Hindu terms assocated with clothing entered the English language through the British Raj. Some terns came from other colonies, but India was the primary source. Some but not all were eventually exported to Amnerican English as well.

Specific Terms

Dungarees (American): Dungarees as in England has been used for overall work clothes. By the 1940s dungarees was being used for jeans (without the bib front) worn by boys. The American usage evolved from Anglo-Indian term. Apparently the usage was regional. A California reader tells us that the term was never used in California. Young Americans by the 2000s may not be familair with it. A HBC reader reports, "I have never heard anyone from the west coast use the word `dungarees' for anything. When we heard people use that word, we knew that they were easterners."

Dunagree (English): Dungaree in singular means a coarse Indian calico. This Indian term is the origin of the American word as well. In plural, dungasrees means overalls made of dungaree or similar material, worn especially by workers. Commonly used for trousers with a bib worn by workmen or children. In the 1990s, overalls even became a fashion garment for teenasgers, but motre in America than England. The original Hindi was "dungri" which was first used. A HBC reader reports, "I have an English catalog from 1973 that used "dungarees" for bib overalls.




Mufti (English): School term for one's regular clothes rather than the school uniform. A Mufti was an Islamic relogious advisor who would be consulted by government officials in applying relogious law. (The Turkish term is used somewaht differently.) The British military India began using the term for civilian dress because a Mufti was a civilian official.

Nainsook: The term nainsook was a soft finished cotton fabric used for infants and children's underwear. Nainsook was usually white, but we havenoted some garments with patterns like checks. An example of children's underwear made with nainsook are the combination suits offered in the 1923 Montgomery Ward catalog in the United States. I had thought it was of Chinese origins, but was Indian. In Hindi, the term "nainsukh" literally means "eye pleasure". It is one of the many clothing realted terms entering the English language through the British Raj.

Pajamas / Pyjamas : Pajamas are derived from a Hindi word. This is because they were introduced to Europe and America about 1880 from India for men to wear for sleeping instead of nightshirts. Pajamad consisted of a matching jacket and trousers--loose fitting trousers. There is a difference between the spelling in America and Britain. Pajamas, is spelled pyjamas in Britain, Canada and other British Commonwealth countries. Pajamas were not commonly worn in the late 19th and early 20th century, especially by boys. Nightshirts were still much more common well into the 20th century.


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Created: April 12, 2003
Last updated: May 5, 2002