By Aishah Macgill

Shampoo. It has sunk into the psyche of us English speaking peeps like we invented the word. Did we? No. It is a Hindi word, originally from champo, meaning to knead, to press. Originally, it was the action being described, then shampoo morphed into the meaning as we know it today in about the 1860’s, when the dictionary first recorded the meaning, soap for shampooing.

This begs another question. When the English first arrived in India in the 1700’s, they obviously didn’t take any shampoo along with them. The English were in times past notorious for their bathing habits, or lack thereof; consequently, there was no word for a special soap or concoction used to wash the hair.

Indians, on the other hand, have always been meticulous about their personal hygiene for thousands of years. They are the original obsessive compulsive bathers. Thus, we anglos absorbed the unlikely sounding word, shampoo into our vernacular.

The first time I went to  Bombay Vritti, (Victoria Station, named after Queen Victoria) the huge central railway station in Bombay (now reverted to Mumbai, more on that annoying Anglo habit of anglicising words and places to suit our lazy vernacularly habits in another post), I overheard a conversation in Hindi from the railway employees; frequently embellished with just one english word, timetable. Upon further enquiries, I discovered that there is no Hindi equivalent of the word timetable, nothing remotely close.

In conclusion, this demonstrates one basic difference between the western mindset and the eastern one. We westerners, though punctual and seemingly more organised, failed at least in times gone by to wash our hair regularly enough to have a special name for the soap used.

Conversely, the eastern mindset is generally not too concerned with punctuality and time constraints (and I see that as a big lifestyle plus), thus the word timetable had no meaning within the Indian psyche, at least not until the English arrived and they made a jolly good job-attempt at introducing timetables to the seemingly chaotic, time-space continuum of India.

Things happen in India in Indian time; meetings, events, anything – will happen, when it happens. Could even be tomorrow when it was meant to be today. What to do?


More Etymology of  Words