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Today's Word



Jan 2, 2017
This week’s theme
Words borrowed from Sanskrit

This week’s words

A literal brahmin
Photo: Lucus2006

A Boston Brahmin (Samuel Adams)
Art: John Singleton Copley, c.1772

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with Anu Garg

The new movie Arrival features a linguist as its protagonist. At one point she talks about the Sanskrit word for war. There are many, but apparently she means gavisti, explained as a desire for more cows. In case you’re wondering, the English word for war means a desire for more oil.*

Sanskrit, an ancient Indian language, has given many words to English directly (orange, nirvana, mantra, etc.), and indirectly (guru, cot, jute, etc.) via its daughter languages, or via another language which borrowed them from Sanskrit (Zen, candy, lilac, etc.). This week we’ll look at five other words that have their origins in Sanskrit. For more Sanskrit words in English, check out a week of words from 2006.

If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s worth checking out. It would be especially beneficial for presidents to watch before grabbing those nuclear launch codes.

*In case it wasn’t clear, that was a joke. The word war comes from the Indo-European root wers- (to confuse or to mix up), which also gave us guerrilla, worse, worst, liverwurst, French guerre, Spanish/Italian/Portuguese guerra, and German verwirren (to confuse).



noun: A member of the upper class, having wealth, social status, and political power.

From Sanskrit brahmin, a member of the priestly class, the highest of the four classes, from Brahma, the creator of the universe in Hinduism. Earliest documented use: 1481.

“The wealthiest, the Brahmins, are zoned off from everyone else, eating gold-leaf-sprinkled chocs, purchasing mansions and penthouses, hunting and shooting on vast estates, protecting their billions from impertinent tax collectors, buying political influence.”
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown; It’s Time to Take Up the Cudgels Against Planned Poverty; The Independent (London, UK); Jun 22, 2015.

“Mrs. Guth, a philanthropist and a descendant of one of the founders of the pharmaceutical company Merck, was doing little to lighten the old-money mood. She spoke with a Brahmin accent to rival Katharine Hepburn’s, and initially appeared wary of the slightest personal revelation. ‘Why do we have to do that?’ she said when asked to talk about her roots in New Hampshire.”
Steven Kurutz; Greening the Gilded Age; The New York Times; Aug 7, 2014.

See more usage examples of brahmin in Vocabulary.com’s dictionary.

A poor idea well written is more likely to be accepted than a good idea poorly written. -Isaac Asimov, scientist and writer (2 Jan 1920-1992)

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