Malayalam has a history of assimilating loanwords from various foreign tongues. This is true even of some of common slang words that Malayalees use in day-to-day conversations. Here's a list of some of the most interesting ones that caught my eye.

Yemandan (യമണ്ടൻ)

adj. unusually huge and/or powerful

The name came from, believe it or not, a German warship called SMS Emden. The ship, named after the town of Emden in Germany, played a major role for the German Navy during World War I. It operated in the seas around South and South East Asia. During its voyages in the Bay of Bengal and later, in the Arabian Sea (close to the coast of Kerala), it sank many European military and merchant ships.

Map showing the cruise SMS Emden in the Indian Ocean from September-November 1914. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Map showing the cruise SMS Emden in the Indian Ocean from September-November 1914. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

One of the stated aims of these actions was to reduce the prestige of the British in the eyes of the native population. The most notorious amongst those efforts was the bombardment of Madras. The ship illuminated the night sky by destroying oil tanks along the Madras port resulting in huge explosions. The SMS Emden soon became the symbol of destruction and fear in the south of India.

The word Yamandan, a corruption of the ship’s name, thus came into the local folklore as a superlative for something huge and powerful.

OC (ഓസ്സി/ഓസ്സ്)

verb. to get something for free at someone’s else expense.

During the days of the East India Company, there was a provision for sending out official letters and parcels without paying postage. These letters were stamped with the words On Company Service, abbreviated as OCS. Apparently, many company servants started misusing this facility and started sending personal items marked with OCS.

OCS ended up shortened to OC in the colloquial lingo and eventually came to be used for anything that would come for free, instead of just letters. The term is also used in Tamil in the same context. It probably came to Malayalam through Tamil.

KD (കേഡി)

noun. a thug or trouble maker

This one is very straightforward. KD is the abbreviation for Known Depredator, a term used historically in the Indian Penal Code for a petty criminal who has been caught frequently. Most police stations (varies with state) even now are required to keep an updated list of KDs with them.

This word is common to all South Indian languages.

Knappan (ക്ണാപ്പൻ)

noun. a good-for-nothing guy

Sir Arthur Rowland Knapp was a British officer of the Indian Civil Services, who served as the collector of the Malabar district of the Madras presidency. His inexperience and lack of understanding about the nuances of local culture led to a lot of his administrative reforms being ineffective and unpopular.

It is believed that even after he was long gone from Malabar, Sir Knapp’s name became synonymous with incompetence; eventually being assimilated into Malayalam as Knappan. In reality, Sir Knapp had a very eminent career following his reign in Malabar. He later became the secretary of the board of revenue in Madras and also served as a member of the legislative council there.

Though there are no established records about the word's etymology, so to speak, this story is shared in conversation and through anecdotes.

Recent additions

The words mentioned above are recent entrants into the Malayalam vocabulary. Several other loanwords exist that were introduced into Malayalam over the course of history, and most them are now an integral part of the language. This is a list of some of these words.

This article first appeared on Rusty.in.