David Waterman is a literary critic working at La Rochelle University, France. In 2015, he was at the Karachi Literature Festival to launch his book. As the American mingled with Pakistanis after the book launch, he learnt a new phrase: cold drink.
Cold drink is a term he had never heard previously. For most people in Pakistan it is an “English” phrase used when you talk about fizzy or soft drinks. The local term is botal, a variation on the pronunciation of bottle.
Cold drink is not the only “English” phrase that sounds strange to native speakers of English. Another widely used term is Son of the soil. You won’t find it in the Oxford English Dictionary, Cambridge Dictionary or Collins Dictionary.
There are other expressions that leave native English speakers scratching their heads. But if they bring them up, please don’t say What goes of your father? if it irritates you… (Tumharay baap ka kya jata he).
Here are six “English” lexical phrases that are famously mysterious to native speakers of English.
Let’s head back to David Waterman’s little story. He visited Pakistan to launch his book Where Worlds Collide at the Karachi Literature Festival 2015 (KLF15). The book provides a survey of contemporary Pakistani fiction writers. Waterman knew enough of Pakistan to discuss cultural nuances, yet he was amused by a term that we know as an English one. At KLF15 he met my Karachi university professor, Dr Faisal Nazir, an authority on Pakistani English fiction and postcolonialism. As they struck up a conversion, the first major remark Waterman made about Pakistan was, “Today, I learnt a new phrase: cold drinks.”
A Google search of “cold drink” will throw up about a dozen results showing pictures of fizzy drinks. But “cold drink” is not a phrase you would find in the Cambridge and Collins dictionaries. A variation of the term is found in the Oxford English Dictionary as “cooldrink” with the same meanings that we have associated with cold drink: a soft or fizzy drink without alcohol. The OED says the term “cooldrink” originated in Africa. So, Waterman had a reason to be amused at “cold drink.”
Had he gone to a restaurant on the other side of the bridge in Karachi, he would have also encountered a further mutation if a waiter had asked him if he wanted ‘white’ or ‘black’ for his cold drink (7Up/Sprite or Coke/Pepsi)
Son of the soil
A really fun resource to use if you’re looking for the meaning of newly coined words and slang is the Urban Dictionary (UD). It says the meaning of ‘son of the soil’ is undefined as “no person ever grew out of any soil.” You won’t find the term in any of the three leading dictionaries listed above. However, it is a widely used phrase in India and Pakistan and is based on a complete theory or concept.
In India, a Quora answer would tell you that “son of the soil” is a political theory which states that “the fruits of development of a particular region should be enjoyed first by the aboriginal people and then to be passed on to the people who migrated to that region.” In other words, the doctrine specifies that a region specifically belongs to the main linguistic group inhabiting it. Markandey Katju, a former judge of the Indian Supreme Court, calls it an anti-national concept.
In Pakistan, soldiers (and sometimes officers from the civil service) are called “sons of the soils” because they fight until the last breath for the motherland. The underlying concept, however, is the same as that followed in the Indian context. Anti-British freedom fighter Bhagat Singh was also a son of the soil.
“What is your good name, beta ji/sir ji,” is what you have heard if you live in the Indo-Pak region. But if you ask a native English speaker their ‘good name’ they may wonder if they also have a ‘bad name.’ The expression does not exist in the same sense in English speaking countries (US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand…) If anything, a native speaker could think “good name” to mean a good reputation. The lexical entry in the Collins dictionary gives the meaning of “good name” as “the good opinion that people have about a person or thing.”
In the Subcontinent, the expression simply means name. The phrase probably originates from Urdu isme girami, which literally means precious name. A polite way to ask someone their name in Urdu is “Aap ka isme girami?” (Your precious name, please) or “Aap ka isme girami kia hey?” (What is your precious name?)
There are over 20 ways to respond to a ‘thanks you’ but you will never find ‘mention not’ among them. The phrase is strictly a grammatically departure. Its formal version ‘don’t mention it,’ is used in response to ‘thank you’.
The several expressions listed below to respond to a ‘thank you’ range from the most formal to most informal.
In the native English-speaking world, ‘rubber’ is slang for condom. In desi English it means eraser. In English ‘rubber eraser’ is a valid term but using only ‘rubber’ could lead to confusion. Rubber eraser in its natural form is called ‘gum elastic’ and this was the term used for rubber eraser in the 18th Century.
Rubber also means a device that rubs something off. So, the term is not entirely wrong. Were it not for some people with imagination, we would have been free to use ‘rubber’ interchangeably with ‘eraser.’
As someone living in the Subcontinent, you might have received an email with the sender asking you to “Please revert as soon as possible” or promising to “revert as soon as possible.” Yahoo Finance advises you to “charge the sender with culpable homicide not amounting to murder of the English language.” However, we would not endorse such a pedantic approach.
It is true that in native English-speaking countries ‘revert’ does not mean ‘reply.’ It means, according to most of the English dictionaries, ‘to go back to the original state’. However, the Collins dictionary lists an entry stating that in Indian English the word could mean ‘to reply.’ Still, you would be better off by using “I look forward to hearing from you soon” or “I will reply as soon as possible.”
Now, this piece must not imply that we are emphasizing on the use of ‘standard English.’ In fact, the term has never been used here. If Desi English has lexical phrases that may be alien to native speakers of English, people from one English-speaking nation can encounter strange terms in another English-speaking country. More on this later.
Meanwhile, leave us a comment if you have come across a term that people in the Subcontinent use taking it to be an English expression but it is not known to people of the five English-speaking countries.