List of English words of Tamil origin

This is a list of English words that are ultimately of Tamil origin.

Words of Tamil origin borrowed directly from Tamil

The following words were directly borrowed from Tamil: appam : from Tamil appam (Source: OED) cash : The primary meaning of the word cash, paper money, or money in general, comes from Latin capsa, chest. A secondary meaning of cash, referring to any of various coins used in southern India and China, comes ultimately from Tamil காசு kācu (Source: OED, AHD, MWD) catamaran : from Tamil கட்டுமரம் kaṭṭumaram("kattu"=tied up, "maram"=wood) (Source: OED, AHD, MWD) cheroot : from French cheroute, from Tamil சுருட்டு curuṭṭu, roll or rolled (Source: OED, AHD, MWD) corundum : from a Tamil word for 'ruby', குருந்தம் kuruntam or குருவிந்தம் kuruvintam (Source: OED) coir : from the Tamil/ Malayalam word kayaru for rope or thread or to be twisted. (Source: The American Heritage Dictionary) curry : from Tamil கறி kaṟi, sauce (Source: OED, AHD, MWD) godown : from கிடங்கு kidangu/kodangu a Tamil word for store room (Source: OED) idli : from Tamil இட்லி idli (Source: OED) illupi : from Tamil iluppai (Source: OED) kabadi/kabaddi : from Tamil kabadi (Source: OED) Maldivian : from Tamil malaidhivu("malai"=mountain, "dhivu"=island), (Source: OED) Moringa : from முருங்கை murungai , a Tamil word for drumstick (Source: OED, AHD) mulligatawny : from Tamil மிளகுத்தண்ணீர் miḷaku-taṇṇīr from miḷaku black pepper taṇṇīr, water (Source: OED, AHD, MWD) nadaswaram/nagaswaram : from Tamil nagasvaram (Source: OED) palay : from Tamil palai (Source: OED) palus : from Tamil palla, pit (Source: OED) pariah : from Tamil பறையர் paṟaiyar , plural of பறையன் paṟaiyaṉ (Source: OED, AHD, MWD) pandal : from Tamil pandal (Source: OED) pongal : from Tamil pongal poonga oil : from Tamil punku, oil from pungam tree (Source: OED) poppadom :from அப்பளம் appalam a Tamil word for a crispy side dish (Source: OED) portia tree : from Tamil puvaracu (Source: OED) sambar : from Tamil sambar (Source: OED) sangam : from Tamil sancam, (Source: OED) Tamil : from Tamil Tamizh tutenag : from Tamil tuttunagam (Source: OED)

Words of Tamil origin borrowed from Malayalam

Malayalam is a language which derived parts from Tamil and Sanskrit about 1000 years ago. The following English words of Tamil origin were borrowed from Malayalam. betel : from Malayalam vettila; Tamil vettrilei: "vettru"=plant name + "ilei"=leaf, (Source: OED) copra : from the Malayalam word koppara, coconut kernel or Tamil கொப்பரை kopparai / கொப்பறா koppara or Telugu word kobbera(Source: OED, AHD, MWD) Malayalam : from Malayalam Malayalam, from Tamil malai, mountain, ala, people, and the appendix -am (Source: mango : from Portuguese manga, from Malayalam manga, from Tamil mangaai: "ma/mang"=plant name + "kaai"=fruit. teak : from Malayalam thekku, from Tamil thekku coir : from Malayalam kayar, from Tamil kayaru

Words currently debated

Major English dictionaries like Oxford English Dictionary, American Heritage Dictionary, and Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, do not conclusively attribute Tamil origin to these words. anaconda : possibly from Tamil aanai kondan, elephant killer Most dictionaries (AHD, MWD, New Oxford American Dictionary) give origin from Sinhalese henakaňdayā, "whipsnake". coolie : Of disputed origin. OED states Tamil is proposed by some as the language of origin, from கூலி cooli a Tamil word for labour. rice : The English word rice is borrowed from the Greek word "oruza" ((μαγειρ.) ὄρύζα) which is similar to the Tamil அரிசி arici and Telugu Vari referring to paddy . In relation to the etymology of rice, linguists in the 1920s categorically ruled out the possibility of a Tamil origin arguing, inter alia, that there was no direct contact between the South of India and the Greek-speaking world in the 4th century BC (see e.g. Jules Bloch's "Le nom du riz", printed in Etudes Asiatique, L'ecole Francaise d'extreme orient, 1925). Of late, it is well established that there were in fact significant trade links between India and Greece at that time, and several newer scholars take it for granted that the word entered Greek from Tamil (e.g. John Thorley's 1969 piece "The development of trade between the Roman Empire and the East under Augustus", printed in Greece & Rome, 16:2 at pp. 222).


The etymologies of on this page are from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the American Heritage Dictionary, (AHD), and the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary (M-W). It is noted when the dictionaries' etymologies do not agree.


See also: Indian English, Lists of English words of international origin

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