« previous post | next post »

"‘Kolaveri Di’ Goes Viral. But Why?", WSJ 11/22/2011; "Kolaveri di next big thing in popular culture", DNA 11/25/2011; "With millions of hits, 'Kolaveri Di' on song", The Times of India 11/25/2011; and so on:

According to the Samosapedia,  kolaveri "means a murderous rage felt by a jilted or spurned lover but in everyday parlance refers to unnecessary anger" and di is the Tamil or Mallu version of "girl" or "babe". The video has subtitles, and an English translation is given here.

[via MetaFilter]


  1. suntzuanime said,

    November 25, 2011 @ 6:34 pm

    Forgive me, but I don't see the linguistics connection. Catchy song, but.

  2. Rod Johnson said,

    November 25, 2011 @ 6:37 pm

    Well, the Tamil-English codeswitching is interesting.

    [(myl) I think that it's more code mixing than code switching; but yes.]

  3. Rod Johnson said,

    November 25, 2011 @ 7:04 pm

    Maybe. I almost amended my post, but decided not to bother. I'm not sure the two terms are that clearly distinguished. But yes, all the -las and -us appended to English words are what I was getting at. There's not really all that much Tamil in it otherwise.

    The article in the Hindu tries to discern some meaning in the language play—not too successfully from where I sit, but:

    Dhanush has indeed made broken English cool among some urban pockets but others laugh at it, rather than with it.

    English is a formal language. Maybe breaking that stiff formality was just what the country wanted to let its hair down and share a laugh over a distinctly honest Indian voice. Accent included.

  4. Eric P Smith said,

    November 25, 2011 @ 7:40 pm

    Off-topic, but I play the piano and I wish I had thumbs like the keyboard player in the video: see around 0:38.

  5. John Walden said,

    November 26, 2011 @ 4:10 am

    Not very on-topic either I'm afraid: Twice in that Times of India article there is the use of "rage" as in "makes the song a …. rage". I'm familiar with "all the rage" so I can see why "rage" can mean "something trending" but is this a new use from Indian English or an old one that hasn't gone away? The last time I remember being surprised by "rage" was when I found (through Australian soaps) that it was used to mean "party (v)" in Australian English.

    [(myl) Perhaps the issue is the indefinite use: "We marketed aggressively to make the song a national rage"; "It is predominantly the adolescent minds that make this kind of superfluous songs a rage". The OED's sense 5.g. "As complement: a widespread, temporary fashion or enthusiasm; esp. in to be (also become) (all) the rage", despite the indefinite article in the gloss, has only definite citations, e.g.

    1780    E. Griffith Times iii. 31   Eating is the rage, the high ton at present, and indeed is one of the most refined of our modern studies.
    1797    T. Morton Cure for Heart-ache iii. i. 46   Any thing new in high life?—what is the present rage with ladies of fashion?

    There is one marginal exception:

    1811    Byron Let. 15 Dec. (1973) II. 149   Tomorrow, I dine with Rogers & am to hear Coleridge, who is a kind of rage at present.

    However, contrary to this hypothesis, in fact it's not hard to find indefinite uses from American and British sources:

    A new board game, Trivial Pursuit, was a national rage, and the mood seemed right for a Jeopardy revival. [Stephen Baker, Final Jeopardy: Man Vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything, 2011]

    The price of those materials and the sameness of his styles have made Halston a rage among status seekers. [Kenneth Fraser, The New Yorker, 1974]

    So in the end, I think this is an old use that hasn't gone away.]

  6. peterv said,

    November 26, 2011 @ 8:29 am

    Eric P Smith said (November 25, 2011 @ 7:40 pm)

    "Off-topic, but I play the piano and I wish I had thumbs like the keyboard player in the video: see around 0:38."

    Eric: His thumbs look supple, but his reach is not long. At 0:37 he plays a minor 10th (A to C). Without particularly large hands, I can play an 11th comfortably, and just stretch to a 12th (A to E).

  7. Rod Johnson said,

    November 26, 2011 @ 11:08 am

    It's used to mean "party" in American English too, at least among the younguns.

  8. turang said,

    November 26, 2011 @ 12:43 pm

    A more literal meaning of eri (yeri) in Tamil is fire or burning.
    (kol is kill in Tamil)
    There have been other efforts in this area –

  9. marie-lucie said,

    November 26, 2011 @ 12:52 pm

    Without particularly large hands, I can play an 11th comfortably, and just stretch to a 12th (A to E).

    Am I right that you are probably a tall man, and that perhaps your hands are not particularly large for your height, although quite large relative to the majority of the population? The pianist in the video has long thin fingers, but is otherwise a small, slightly-built person.

  10. rootlesscosmo said,

    November 26, 2011 @ 3:22 pm

    At 0:37 he plays a minor 10th (A to C).

    It looks and sounds to me as though he slightly rolls the 10th and briefly plays the E on the way from A to C. But he certainly does have long thin fingers and my eyes are nearly as old as the combined ages of any three people in that video.

  11. etv13 said,

    November 26, 2011 @ 4:15 pm

    I'm interested in the characterization of English as "a formal language." Would that be an uncontroversial statement in India? Is English as spoken in India predominantly used in situations where one would be speaking in particularly formal registers? Cuz where I come from, ain't all that formal, ya know?

  12. David Eddyshaw said,

    November 26, 2011 @ 5:27 pm

    There seems (apologies if this is obvious to everyone already) to be a cross-language pun in the title: kolaveri and "colour vary":

    She’s a fair-skinned girl, girl,
    Girl’s heart is black,

  13. Ethan said,

    November 26, 2011 @ 6:26 pm

    @David Eddyshaw: That's brilliant. Damn, I would never have caught that. Non-rhotic English is as much a foreign tongue as tamil.

  14. M Williamson said,

    November 26, 2011 @ 7:07 pm

    Rod Johnson, as a "youngun" I have to disagree, at least from my knowledge of the colloquial English of my age-peers. A particularly raucous party can be described as a "rager", a word that could also be used to describe someone who has an anger management problem. A "rave" is a particular kind of party that typically involves extremely loud electronica music, drugs, bright lights and has its own associated subculture. I don't think that a "rage" is a party though.

  15. Rod Johnson said,

    November 26, 2011 @ 9:51 pm

    @M–that's "rage (v)," remember. https://www.google.com/search?q="let's+rage"

  16. Rod Johnson said,

    November 26, 2011 @ 9:52 pm

    OK, that didn't work: look here.

  17. Circe said,

    November 26, 2011 @ 10:33 pm

    I'm interested in the characterization of English as "a formal language." Would that be an uncontroversial statement in India? Is English as spoken in India predominantly used in situations where one would be speaking in particularly formal registers? Cuz where I come from, ain't all that formal, ya know?

    Yes, English does has some sort of "formal language" status in India. So do the formal registers of local languages like Hindi (which are so different from normal day to day Hindi that Hindi officialese is mostly opaque even to native speakers like me) The reason for English completely being a formal language was that until recently, it was used only in offices, law, schools, technical education and by t he "high brow" English media, with any code mixing like the song above (which is in "Tanglish" = Tamil + English) or "Hinglish" being ridiculed as (I am translating literally from Hindi here) "breaking the legs of the English language".

  18. Circe said,

    November 26, 2011 @ 10:41 pm


    Thanks for pointing this one out: this one was quite the rage in India a few years ago.

  19. Sesh said,

    November 27, 2011 @ 5:01 pm

    Well I just bumped into this page.. er.. The song seems quite catchy.. Doesn't it!! As far as the usage of English goes, well, I guess it just represents the trend in India where people usually have an intermingling of the local language along with English for everyday communicative purposes.. In one interview the singer says .. the 'Color vary' factor.. is just dedicated to the one girl that this song is targeted at.. Kolaveri literally means a burning rage to kill.. Here it is targeted at the girl who has broken the man's heart and left him in shambles .. the rendition is supposed to be a tongue in cheek ( if u understand Indian cultural and contextual nuances ) attempt to mock girls who play the dating game with no rules.. That was that…

  20. Alacritas said,

    November 27, 2011 @ 9:16 pm

    What do the -la and -u affixes mean? (Or are they clitics? Hard to tell, considering I don't know what they mean and haven't seen them used with native Tamil words). Looked it up, but to no avail.

  21. turang said,

    November 27, 2011 @ 11:21 pm

    -la means in. (distance-la would be "at a distance" or durattila; you can use things like officela, beachla) -u (in many places this is not really a u sound as in put, it is more open) is used to take in English and other foreign words and "tamilize" them in the nominative form of the word. Kannada does the same thing, but uses a sound closer to the u sound in put.

  22. potax said,

    November 27, 2011 @ 11:26 pm

    @Alacritas the u doesn't really mean anything. the X-la means "in the X". Native Tamil is hard to define. It is very commonly used in spoken Tamil, and is a contraction of "ulla" which means inside.

  23. toxolil said,

    November 28, 2011 @ 5:27 am

    @Alacritas: I would say that in some cases the -u can mean a version of "is". As potax says "-la" is a contraction of "ulla", I would suggest that in some cases "-u" could be a contraction of "irrukku", which means "is".
    For example when he says "Distance-la moon-u" I would take that to mean "in the distance" (Distance-la) "the moon IS" (moon-u). If I were to say that without the abbreviation, I would say "distance-la moon irrukku" and then "moon" would have dropped the "-u" suffix.
    But then, of course, that's only in a few cases, the rest of the time I reckon it's just for rhyme and ridiculousness.

  24. Alacritas said,

    November 28, 2011 @ 6:54 am

    @turang and @potax

    Thank you for the answers!

  25. Ramanand said,

    November 29, 2011 @ 1:01 am

    @David Eddyshaw: not sure if you meant it in jest, but I doubt the pun was intended (I'm a native Tamil speaker and also judging this from what I've read about how the song came about).

    Haven't seen anyone here call attention to it here, so let me: the other interesting bits in the song are the use of the phrase "soup song" (i.e. a song about 'love failure') which is something not even the rest of India would be familiar with. 'Love Failure', another quirky term, seems to be another Madras-slang invention.

  26. Wilhelm Deussen said,

    November 29, 2011 @ 4:49 am

    Slightly on-topic: i remember a discussion with Bengali relatives at the dinner table years ago, when a cousin of mine said in the middle of an all-Bengali conversation: 'Morning, egg best.' He meant that he was of the opinion that the best time of the day to eat eggs is the morning, i.e. at breakfast. The sentence struck me, as it's a perfect Bengali sentence structurally, with not a word of Bengali in it, and I think it'd be hard to understand to non-Bengali Anglophones. Somehow it doesn't sound strange in Bengali (or other subcontinental languages) to use English words instead of very common words in the local language.

  27. Ambarish Sridharanarayanan said,

    November 30, 2011 @ 10:49 am

    For the record, "-la" is the colloquial Tamil equivalent of classical "-ilē" and not of "uḷḷē". "uḷḷē" has a retroflex l, whereas "-ile" has an alveolar l. "-ile" is cognate with Telugu "-lo" and Kannada "-alli".

  28. David Eddyshaw said,

    November 30, 2011 @ 6:20 pm


    No, I was serious. As a Tamil speaker you're certainly in a better position than I to judge how likely this is to be deliberate (your reluctance to believe I was serious is probably significant evidence in itself.) As a non-Tamil speaker, conversely, I'm naturally inclined to interpret incomprehensible sounds as English, whether or not that was intended.

    There is a pretty clear black/white contrast theme in the lyrics, mind, and not just the bit I quoted before:

    The moon is in the distance, the moon.
    Moon’s colour is white.
    Night’s background is white, the night,
    Night’s colour is black.

    She’s a fair-skinned girl, girl,
    Girl’s heart is black,
    Her eyes and my eyes met,
    My future is now dark.

    Perfectly possible that it's a coincidence, of course.

  29. Gopal said,

    December 10, 2011 @ 3:51 pm

    @Rod Johnson

    The word kolaveri's direct translation may 'murderous rage'. But the word acquired a distinct meaning when the Tamil Film Comedian vadivelu asks in a movie when accidentally injured, in a tone of exagerrated pity ' why this kolaveri?'. Since then the tamil youth started using facetiously to anything when they were at the receiving end of any negative event. Here, the character refers to the injustice done by his ex in dumping him..

  30. online relationships said,

    March 13, 2013 @ 12:56 pm

    Great goods from you, man. I have bear in mind your stuff prior to and you are simply extremely excellent. I really like what you've bought right here, certainly like what you are stating and the best way by which you are saying it. You're making it entertaining and you continue to care for to keep it wise. I can't wait to learn much more from you. That is actually a tremendous web site.

  31. turang said,

    November 25, 2013 @ 12:21 am

    Looks like there is a sequel to celebrate Sacnin Tendulkar's retirement from cricket – https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/mint-quickview/id533491939?mt=12

  32. turang said,

    November 25, 2013 @ 12:24 am

    Sorry, Wrong link. The right one, I hope – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mURXPSD2Q10

RSS feed for comments on this post