Have you ever heard of the Hobson-Jobson dictionary?

Colonel Henry Yule and AC Burnell began work on it in 1872. The dictionary started as a lexicon of words of Asian origin used by the British in India, and hasn’t been out of print since it was first published. It’s much more than a dictionary though:

“It’s a madly unruly and idiosyncratic work,” says poet Daljit Nagra.

“Not so much an orderly dictionary as a passionate memoir of colonial India. Rather like an eccentric Englishman in glossary form.”

Take the entry for the Indian word dam. The dictionary defines it as: “Originally an actual copper coin. Damri is a common enough expression for the infinitesimal in coin, and one has often heard a Briton in India say: ‘No, I won’t give a dumree!’ with but a vague notion what a damri meant.”

That is the etymology of dam. But Yule and Burnell have more to say.

“And this leads to the suggestion that a like expression, often heard from coarse talkers in England as well as in India, originated in the latter country, and that whatever profanity there may be in the animus, there is none in the etymology, when such an one blurts out ‘I don’t care a dam!’ in other words, ‘I don’t care a brass farthing!’” (Source: BBC News)

Some words we use that have Indian origins:

Avatar, cashmere, guru, loot