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Encyclopedia > Tanglish

Madras bashai (also known as Madras Tamil and informally as Tanglish) is a language spoken in the city of Chennai, India. It is a loose polyglot blend of Tamil and English, with some loan words from Telugu, Kannada and Hindi. The term literally means "Madras language" in Tamil.

Many linguists classify it as a dialect of Tamil, but some debate exists over whether this is a valid classification. Specifically, Madras bashai tends to use English words for nouns and non-trivial verbs, and Tamil for prepositions and conjunctions. Its grammar however is not easily categorized into one or the other. It does not qualify as pidgin English (or Engrish) since it does not use English grammar rules or prepositions, nor is it a result of an unsuccessful attempt to speak correct English.

Unique aspects of Madras bashai

Words and phrases

The following words are unique to this language and not found in any other dialect of Tamil.

  • Beku - Imbecile. Pronounced like English "bake u".
  • Figuru - Attractive woman. From English "figure", as in "She's got a good figure".
  • Gaali - Sealed, as in "His fate is sealed". From Tamil, originally meaning "empty".
  • Joadreppai - Cobbler. Etymology unknown, but possibly from Hindi joota (shoe) and English "repair".
  • Jollu - To ogle attractive women. From Tamil for "saliva", implying salivation.
  • Joot - Get started. Pronounced exactly like the English "jute". Etymology unknown.
  • KD - Petty crook. From English "known defaulter", older Chennai police terminology.
  • Kaiyendhi Bhavan - Roadside food vendor, equivalent to a hotdog stand in the US. From Tamil for "hand-to-mouth restaurant". Not necessarily pejorative. Compare "Muniyandi Vilas".
  • Kalakaradhu - To impress with one's performance. From Tamil, literally "to mix", "to stir".
  • Kasmaalam - Synonymous with "idiot", possibly from Sanskrit kash malam (black hair)
  • Leevu - Holiday. From English "leave".
  • Lollu - Anything unpleasant. From Tamil for the sound made by a dog (analogous to "bow wow" in English). Probably a neologism from a Satyaraj movie.
  • Lollu party - Unpleasant person, especially one's boss at work.
  • Machi - Synonymous with "dude". Cannot be used with strangers. Etymology unknown.
  • Mama velai - Pimping, both literally and figuratively. From Tamil for "uncle job".
  • Military hotel - Restaurant that serves non-vegetarian food.
  • Mineema - Female equivalent of "Muniyandi".
  • Muniyandi - Economically backward male, implying a degree of unsophistication and uncouthness.
  • Muniyandi Vilas - Low grade restaurant. Pejorative. Compare "Kaiyendhi Bhavan".
  • Naina - A negative version of "dude", used to imply criticism. Can also be used with strangers. Probably a corrupted version of Telugu Nana (father).
  • OB adikaradhu - To waste time. OB is pronounced as the individual letters O and B. Etymology unknown.
  • Outte - Same as "Gaali". From English "out", used in the context of cricket or other sports.
  • Paal mararadhu - To switch camps, to betray a confidence. From Tamil, "to change milk".
  • Phosphata - Same as "Sulphata".
  • Poramboku - Orphaned, abandoned. Used as an abuse for bad driving.
  • Rowdy - Ruffian. Means the same in English, but used much more commonly in India.
  • Rowdy-sheet - The rap sheet of a rowdy known to the police.
  • Rowdy-sheeter - A rowdy who has a rowdy-sheet.
  • Saavugraaki - Same as "Naina", but stronger sentiment. Uncertain origin.
  • Sight adikaradhu - Same as "Jollu". From English sight and Tamil adikaradhu, "to beat".
  • Sulphata - Cheap liquor that may contain methanol. Asking someone if they've had sulphata implies that they are severely uncoordinated.
  • Voodu - House. From Tamil "veedu", meaning house.
  • Vootle solltiya? - From Tamil, literally "Have you told [people] at home?". Connotes "Did you take leave of your loved ones when you left home?". Indicates really bad driving on the other person's part, and implies that he may not make it home alive.

These words and phrases may of course be strung together. For instance:

"Naina! Vootle solltiya? Saavugraaki!". By calling the other person "naina" and asking him whether he has taken leave of his loved ones, the speaker indicates that his interlocutor is driving in a very unsafe manner. The speaker uses "saavugraaki" to emphasize the point, and thus asserts his superior driving skills in the situation.

A large part of Madras bashai is devoted to cursing other drivers on the road.


The following examples illustrates the difference between Madras bashai, English and Tamil:

English Tamil Madras bashai
Go fast! (Verb Adverb) Vegamaa po! (Adverb Verb) Speeda po! (EnglishNoun TamilVerb)
Go straight! (Verb Adverb) Nera po! (Adverb Verb) Seedhava po! (HindiAdverb TamilVerb)

Questions with yes/no answers are framed by saying the statement whose truth is to be verified (using the participle if necessary) and then saying "aa" at the end with a rising inflexion like a question. If the statement already ends in an "aa" or other interfering vowel sound, then the questioning "aa" can be made "vaa" in the interest of euphonics.

English Madras bashai
Are you ready? Ready-aa?
Did you sleep? ("Have you slept?") Slept-aa?
Is it OK? OK-vaa?

Some people tend to carry the "-aa" even into full English conversations from force of habit. Eg: "Did you finish it aa?"

  Results from FactBites:
Ganesh Kumaresh May 2005 (342 words)
In our society we generally see conflicting elements get together to almost become a confluence.
It is like wearing jibba and jeans, it is like having idli, sambar, vadai and pizza, noodles on the same day, it is like talking Tanglish.
It is like having a reception before the marriage ceremony; it is also like using an electronic tampura and the traditional tempura on the same stage.
RiverRatRanger: Understanding Tanglish (340 words)
I assumed that Tanglish was the Tamil language converted to English form by using the English alphabet, much as modern Vietnamese is. I was wrong.
Apparently Tanglish is a patois made up of Tamil and other languages mixed with English.
One website carried the interesting comment that Tanglish is not taught by parents to their children, but rather by children to their peers and used to communicate in code to keep parents and other adults from understanding what the rebellious youth are saying to each other.
  More results at FactBites »



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