Fun With Words

This morning. Pre-coffee.

Varun: Do you have water?
Me: Um, yeah, my water bottle is in my bag.
Varun: Okay, I’ll just take a swiff.
Me: A swiff? Um, you can have a swig.
Varun: Swiff. It’s what we say in India.
Me: Really?
Varun: No, I just say that when I want to invent a new word.


Through Hindi lessons and asking Varun, “How do you say…?”, I have amassed a small vocabulary in Hindi. There are certain words and phrases that we seem to only say in Hindi. One of these is, “Ajaa”, meaning, “come here”. Varun usually uses it in a very endearing way and I often invite him to join me by enthusiastically saying, “Aja! Ajaaaa!!”


When we were in India this past summer, part of the pre-wedding celebrations included several nights of dance parties with relatives. I could blame it on the chai, but regardless, I was a dancing machine. I think maybe I figured since I could barely communicate I would just dance. And dance. And dance. One evening, as the Aunties sat on the outskirts of our makeshift dance floor gossiping and laughing, I approached Varun’s Mom’s sisters and grabbed their arms, urging them to join me.

“Aaja!” I enthused, motioning for them to jump up and bhangra with me.

What I was expecting was laughter and resigned enthusiasm. What I received was stares and stopped conversations.

Unfortunately, I am familiar with this as the cue that I’ve made a mix up. Frantically, I looked around for an explanation. “Aajau, Aajau!”, someone corrected, quietly but firmly. The rolodex of “Stuff I know in Hindi” spun. A. AU. Right. “A” endings are familiar, “AU” is respectful. The respectful “You”. Extinct in English and crucial in other languages. Didn’t I learn this lesson, cheeks burning, in French I?

What I should have said was, “I’m sorry!”

What I did say was, “Varun says that to me“.

I have no idea what I was trying to accomplish by fighting this losing linguistic battle. Thankfully, my Indian family is incredibly gracious and quickly laughed off my mistake. If only English were more respectful. (If only I were)


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