A purported Hindi-Arabic round-trip word

« previous post | next post »

More than thirty years ago, I coined the term "round-trip word" (láihuí cí 來回詞) to signify a word that is used in one language, is borrowed by another language which attaches a different meaning to it, often one that is calqued from a third language, and then is sent back to the original language with the new meaning.  In the modern version of the originating language, the new meaning usually displaces the old meaning.

This phenomenon is very common between Chinese and Japanese.  I cited scores of examples in this short paper (item #2):

"Two Papers on Sinolinguistics:  1. A Hypothesis Concerning the Origin of the Term fanqie ('Countertomy'); 2. East Asian Round-Trip Words," Sino-Platonic Papers, 34 (October, 1992).

For instance:

[The first part of each entry is the Middle Sinitic reconstruction of the sounds of the two characters in question.  After the characters comes the translation of the original meaning of the expression.  Then comes the modern Japanese pronunciation, after which comes the new meaning attached to the term, followed by the Modern Standard Mandarin pronunciation.]

/mɨun pʉɐp̚/ 文法 ("civil rules")     bunpō ("grammar")     wénfǎ

/pɨun sek̚/ 分析 ("split apart")    bunseki ("analysis")    fēnxī

/t͡suoŋ kˠau/ 宗教 ("doctrine of a sect; teachings of a clan")    shūkyō ("religion")    zōngjiào

/keŋ  t͡seiH/ 經濟 ("rule [the realm] and succor [the people]")    keizai ("economics")    jīngjì

/t͡ɕiᴇŋH ɖˠiɪH/ 政治 ("government measures")    seiji ("politics")     zhèngzhì

/pwɑk̚  d͡ʒɨX/ 博士 ("erudite scholar")    hakushi ("Ph.D")    bóshì

/kˠau d͡ʑɨuH/ 教授  "instruct[or]"    kyōju ("professor")    jiàoshòu

/d͡ʑiaX  ɦuɑiH/ 社會 ("festal gathering around communal altar")    shakai ("society")    shèhuì

I don't know what the situation is like in other pairs of languages, though I suspect it would be fairly frequent in those — like French and English, and I suppose also Persian and Arabic — which have experienced massive borrowing between each other.  Consequently, I was delighted yesterday to come across this alleged example of an Arabic-Hindi-Arabic round-trip word:

[Perso-]Arabic  jārī جاري ("running; flowing") –> Hindi gāṛī गाड़ी / Urdu spelling گاڑی‎ ("cart; wagon") –> Yemeni gāṛī ("cart for carrying sacks")

Janet C. E. Watson, “On the Linguistic Archaeology of Ṣanʿānī Arabic,” Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies, 34 (2004): 407a of 405-12. Accessed March 6, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41223835.

An alternative etymology would have Hindi gāṛī गाड़ी ("cart; wagon; car; truck; bus; carriage; train; rail car") arising from within Indic:  from Sauraseni Prakrit (gaḍḍa), (gaḍḍī), from Ashokan Prakrit *- (*gāḍḍa-).

Other descendants:


In any event, due to the frequency and high volume of trade between India and the Arabian Peninsula, we can expect that there would have been many such borrowings, whether one-way or two-way.

A further interesting twist on the etymological fortunes of Hindi gāṛī is that the present-day word for bicycle in Kuwaiti dialect is garī, which clearly resembles the Hindi word for "cart; wagon".

Abdulaziz Y. Lodhi, “Convergence of Languages on the East African Coast,” in Linguistic Convergence and Areal Diffusion: Case Studies from Iranian, Semitic and Turkic, edited by Éva Ágnes Csató, Bo Isaksson, and Carina Jahani (London; New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2005), p. 361 of 349-364.


*Further notes on English "gharry"

Hindi गाड़ी gāṛi: a wheeled cart, carriage; a car, truck, bus. From the Old Indo-Aryan gāḍḍa- through the Prakrit gaḍḍi-



Hindi gāṛī, probably ultimately from Sanskrit gartaḥ, chariot.

American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed.


GARRY, GHARRY, s. H. gāṛī, a cart or carriage. The word is used by Anglo-Indians, at least on the Bengal side, in both senses. Frequently the species is discriminated by a distinctive prefix, as palkee-garry (palankin carriage), sej-garry (chaise), rel-garry (railway carriage), &c. [The modern dawk-garry was in its original form called the "Equirotal Carriage," from the four wheels being of equal dimensions. The design is said to have been suggested by Lord Ellenborough. (See the account and drawing in Grant, Rural Life in Bengal, 3 seq.).]

1810.—"The common g'horry … is rarely, if ever, kept by any European, but may be seen plying for hire in various parts of Calcutta."—Williamson, V. M. i. 329.

1811.—The Gary is represented in Solvyns's engravings as a two-wheeled rath [see RUT] (i.e. the primitive native carriage, built like a light hackery) with two ponies.

1866.—"My husband was to have met us with a two-horse gharee."—Trevelyan, Dawk Bungalow, 384.

[1892.—"The brūm gārī, brougham; the fitton gārī, phaeton or barouche; the vāgnīt, waggonette, are now built in most large towns…. The vāgnīt seems likely to be the carriage of the future, because of its capacity."—R. Kipling, Beast and Man in India, 193.]



Selected readings


[Thanks to Sarah Alajmi]


  1. Jayarava Attwood said,

    March 6, 2021 @ 11:49 am

    The term "Old Indo-Aryan" … well, let's just say it could usefully be updated. We'd call it "Old Indic" these days.

  2. S. Valkemirer said,

    March 6, 2021 @ 1:16 pm

    English has long had two terms for such a lexeme: a reborrowing and a rückwanderer (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reborrowing). Is there any need for a third?

    If round-trip word has not caught on after more than thirty years of existence, it likely will not in the future either.

  3. Victor Mair said,

    March 6, 2021 @ 2:01 pm

    No need for a third. Who said there's a need for a third?

    I thought of this expression, somewhat whimsically, first in Chinese, and people in East Asia have liked it.

  4. Michael Cargal said,

    March 6, 2021 @ 3:16 pm

    In Thai, karaoke word means a loan word, so it goes from Japanese to English to Thai.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    March 6, 2021 @ 5:22 pm

    Excellent, Michael Cargal.

    And the second half of the Japanese word itself comes from English "orchestra", which derived from Latin, and the Latin ultimately came from Greek orkheisthai ("to dance")

    See this post and this comment.

    The first half of karaoke is a Japanese morpheme meaning "empty".

  6. David Eickhoff said,

    March 6, 2021 @ 6:35 pm

    gārī (گاری) is also modern Persian for carts pushed by a person and used to transport goods in the bāzār. The word is used in Iran.
    In Afghanistan these are called karāčī (کراچی)

  7. anhweol said,

    March 7, 2021 @ 7:10 am

    Why would an Arabic j be borrowed as a Hindi/Urdu g, when Indo-Aryan languages have both sounds available? I don't think colloquial Egyptian ever had much impact on South Asia.

  8. Bob Ladd said,

    March 7, 2021 @ 11:33 am

    There certainly are plenty of these between English and French. One clear case is bar, which was borrowed into English in the sense of 'iron bar', etc., but following various semantic shifts came to mean also 'place for public consumption of (alcoholic) drinks'. That sense has now been exported from English into French and probably dozens of other languages.

    An added twist to this tale is that, once bar was at home in Italian, they added the productive suffix -ista to produce barista 'bartender', but since Italian bars are as important for serving coffee as for alcohol, barista has now been borrowed into English with the specific meaning of 'person who prepares coffee at a fancy coffee place'.

  9. Jason M said,

    March 7, 2021 @ 1:14 pm

    French-English off the top of my head:

    tenez->tennis->le tennis
    parc->park-ing->le parking
    etiquette—>ticket->le ticket

    with a quick wiktionary look-see a couple more:
    bacheler->bachelor->le bachelor
    esquatir->squatter->le squatteur

    Plus weird ones where why would you use the English when it’s obviously the same as an existing French word: le dancing, le battle, etc.

    Every time I go to France I hear more of these, so I am sure the above are just le sommet de l’iceberg.

  10. martin schwartz said,

    March 7, 2021 @ 5:46 pm

    The purp has, I think, wrongly put the course before the cart, or the Arabic before the araba. In Persian the Arabic jārī means only 'running, flowing, current'; no cart. Anhweol is right, only in Egyptian dialect would g- be spelled with Arabic jīm. The Gulf and Yemeni forms with g- are clearly from the Indic Wanderwort. So, too, the Persian gārī noted above by David Eickhoff. Does jārī really mean 'cart' in Arabic? In any event I see nothing wrong with operating with the Indic etymology. My favorite legit example of the phenomenon under discussion is Middle Persian gōhr 'species,essence, jewel' > Arab. jawhar 'jewel'. pl. jawāhir > Pers. jawāhir/javāher 'jewel' sg., and Turk. and then Greek forms. I believe that the Arabic word was jocalized as Medieval Latin jocale, whence Eng. jewel. Speaking of Wanderwörter between Arabic and Indic, I think a very old caravan word was early Arabic *sayār(a)t- vel sim. > Skt. sārtha- 'caravan',
    see PDF Martin Schwartz "Sārtha- and other caravan words", Bulletin of the Asia Institute 23. H.P Lovecraft readers may spot a spurious reference there, which I put in to amuse the volume's honoree Richard Salomon, who, as my student in the eolithic era, introduced me to HPL.

  11. Victor Mair said,

    March 8, 2021 @ 6:42 am

    @ anhweol

    "Why would an Arabic j be borrowed as a Hindi/Urdu g, when Indo-Aryan languages have both sounds available?"

    I was hoping that someone would make this exact, elegant point.

  12. Chris Button said,

    March 8, 2021 @ 10:48 am

    Presumably it's a question of surface phonetic articulation versus underlying phonological structure. The same sound may map phonologically as a one phoneme in one language and as a separate phoneme in another.

  13. Karthik M said,

    March 8, 2021 @ 2:41 pm

    jārī is used directly in Hindi, as in जारी रखना – to continue, to keep something active. It's unlikely to be the source of gārī.

    Other possible etymologies for gārī
    – Sanskrit गान्त्री
    – Sanskrit शकट , possibly through Prakrit सगड, then गड्डी

  14. matthiew joe said,

    March 9, 2021 @ 1:51 am

    The modern dawk-garry was in its original form called the "Equirotal Carriage," from the four wheels being of equal dimensions.

  15. Christian Weisgerber said,

    March 10, 2021 @ 3:55 pm

    @Jason M

    etiquette—>ticket->le ticket

    Bonus: étiquette goes back to an Old French verb estichier, which is borrowed from a Germanic source cognate with English "to stick". So the chain is Germanic->Romance->Germanic->Romance.

  16. Jason M said,

    March 11, 2021 @ 12:38 am

    @Christian Weisgerber Haha. Good point. I love all the French initial “gu” and “é” words with their Germanic derivations (guetter=wait, épice=spice) so I should have stopped for a second longer to ponder that one!

  17. Lasius said,

    March 11, 2021 @ 4:08 am

    My favourite example is:

    German: Volk (people, tribe, crowd) -> Polish: pułk (regiment) -> German: Pulk (mob, unorganized group of people)

    (simplified or course, the earlier borrowing was probably done into Proto-Slavic)

RSS feed for comments on this post