Posted by: Jack Henry | August 11, 2022

Editor’s Corner: Borrowed Sanskrit Words

Good morning!

Kara and I often share English words that come to us from other languages, but I don’ t think either one of us has ever shared a list of words that are derived from the ancient Sanskrit language, so today’s the day!

I was astonished at how many of these words we use on a regular basis! The following information, which includes only a partial list of words, comes from Granted, some words like yoga and karma, were not surprising (so I left them off the list), but others definitely did surprise me.

Sanskrit is an ancient language that dates back to the Bronze Age. It is the language at the root of many languages of the Indian subcontinent, including Hindi, and it is used in ancient literary texts and sacred texts of the Hindu and Buddhist religions, particularly the Vedas. The holy and poetic nature of the language is hinted at in the meaning and origin of the word Sanskrit itself. It comes from the Sanskrit saṃskṛta, meaning “adorned, perfected.”

· juggernaut
Juggernaut is used colloquially to mean “any large, overpowering, destructive force or object, as war, a giant battleship, or a powerful football team.” However, the word literally designates a giant, decorated cart bearing an idol of the Hindu god Krishna that is used in processions at the temple Puri in Odisha, India. In fact, the word juggernaut comes from the Sanskrit Jagannātha- “lord of the world” (i.e., the god Vishnu or Krishna).

· zen
Another word that ultimately comes from Sanskrit and is connected to Buddhist beliefs is zen, which has a variety of meanings including “a state of meditative calm in which one uses direct, intuitive insights as a way of thinking and acting.” It is colloquially used in the sense of “relaxed and calmly accepting of a situation.” The word zen comes from the Sanskrit dhyāna, from the verb dhyāti “he meditates” (i.e., “sees mentally”). As you may have guessed from the origins of the word, Zen Buddhism, a sect of Buddhism that originated in China, involves a lot of meditation.

· orange
In addition to religious terminology, there are some everyday words that come from Sanskrit. Some of these might surprise you. One such word is orange, which can refer both to the citrus fruit and the color. The word orange ultimately comes from the Sanskrit nāraṅga. You can clearly see the Sanskrit origins of this word in the Spanish word for orange, naranja.

· mandarin
Another citrusy term that comes from Sanskrit is mandarin, the small orange citrus fruits that are native to China. Mandarin, especially when capitalized, can also refer to the high-ranking public officials in the Chinese Empire. In fact, the word mandarin comes from the Sanskrit mantrin, meaning “councilor.” The fruit came to share a name with these high-ranking officials because it was thought they were the same color as the yellow sink robes the Mandarins wore.

· punch
A tasty, sweet drink whose name comes from Sanskrit is punch, “a beverage consisting of wine or spirits mixed with fruit juice, soda, water, milk, or the like, and flavored with sugar, spices, etc.” (Sometimes punch is made without booze as well.) The word punch comes from the Sanskrit for “five,” a reference to the five ingredients used to make traditional punch: alcohol, sugar, lemon or lime juice, water, and spices.

· candy
Another sweet treat whose name comes from Sanskrit is candy, “any of a variety of confections made with sugar, syrup, etc., often combined with chocolate, fruit, nuts, etc.” The word comes from the Sanskrit khaṇḍakaḥ, meaning “sugar candy.” In Sanskrit khanda means “piece,” so the word literally refers to “sugar in [crystalline] pieces.”

· loot
The wordloot can be both a noun and a verb. As a noun, it means “spoils or plunder taken by pillaging, as in war.” As a verb, it means “to carry off or take (something) as loot.” You might be familiar with this word already, but you may not know that it ultimately comes from the Sanskrit lōtra or lōptra, meaning “to rob, plunder.”

Next time I chomp on some orange candy or gulp down some punch, I’ll know whom to thank for it.

Donna Bradley Burcher |Technical Editor, Advisory | jack henry™

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123

Pronouns she/her/hers

About Editor’s Corner

Editor’s Corner keeps your communication skills sharp by providing information on grammar, punctuation, JHA style, and all things English. As editors, we spend our days reading, researching, and revising other people’s writing. We love to spend a few extra minutes to share what we learn with you and keep it fun while we’re doing it.

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