Sri Lankan English
Learning Sinhala
Learning Tamil
Contact Us

A-Z of Sri Lankan English

An all-new A-Z of Sri Lankan English is now featured on Groundviews at:

The original A-Z of Sri Lankan English (below) appeared in the travelsrilanka magazine and the SLELTA Quarterly between 2007 and 2009.

A is for aachchi

A is for aachchi (grandmother). Or is it achi? or aachi? or achchi? or even atchi or aatchi? The very first word in the dictionary demonstrates the problem of spelling conventions. We are so used to “looking it up in the dictionary” to check the correct spelling of a word. But how to spell a non-English word which doesn’t yet appear in any dictionary, and which is normally used only in spoken contexts? In an attempt to be descriptive rather than prescriptive, I have included quotes from a number of published books in order to show how others have used (and spelt) the words. Unfortunately in the case of aachchi this is not very helpful: A Sivanandan spells it two different ways in “When Memory Dies” (aatchi on page 240 and aachi on page 342!) and Manuka Wijesinghe spells it Achi in her recent book “Monsoons and Potholes”.

Defying such contradictory precedents, I have chosen to spell the word aachchi. This I believe reflects the majority usage which I have observed in other sources such as newspapers, etc. I have tried to be as consistent as possible by using the “double a” spelling in other words such as aappa, aasmi, maama, thaaththa, and the “double ch” spelling in achcharu, kachcheri, thaachchiya, thangachchi. In doing so I realise I am in danger of crossing the fine line between description and prescription, by setting my own standard for the spelling of these words. By calling my book a dictionary I am compounding the problem, setting my own choice as the standard which you will find when you “look it up in the dictionary”. Such is the weight of responsibility on the lexicographer’s shoulders!

A is also for aiyo! aney! ammo! apo! ado! – a rich collection of exclamations with many subtle shades of meaning according to who is using them and in what context.

B is for Burgher

The Burghers were originally those citizens of colonial Ceylon who were of European descent (mainly Dutch and Portuguese). Over the centuries, as many of the original Burghers have intermarried with the Sinhalese and Tamil communities, and/or emigrated to Europe, Australia or the US, the word has come to refer loosely to any Sri Lankan of mixed descent.

The Burghers had a profound effect on many aspects of Sri Lankan life and culture. As well as their influence on the legal system, the architecture and the cuisine of the island, they also introduced many words of Dutch and Portuguese origin into the language.

The word Burgher itself is a Dutch word. Another very common word of Dutch origin is baas, meaning a skilled workman (mason, plumber, carpenter, etc.), either working by himself or else in charge of a group of labourers or apprentices on a building site or other workplace. But the most lasting linguistic impression left by the Dutch seems to be culinary: breudher (a type of cake traditionally baked at Christmas), lamprai (the popular rice dish steamed in a banana leaf), kokis (the crisp deep-fried wheel-shaped staple of every New Year meal), frikkadel (a deep-fried meatball, an important ingredient in a lamprai), egg ruloung (a spiced scrambled egg dish) and poffertje (a small round fritter with raisins).

The Portuguese gave us baila, the ubiquitous and infectious dance music often accompanied by humorous lyrics employing an outrageous mix of Sinhala and English languages. They also bequeathed a number of words which remain common throughout the subcontinent: almirah (a wardrobe), brinjal (aubergine in the UK, eggplant in the US), peon (a messenger or office aide). And not surprisingly they also made their impression on the kitchen, with bola folhado (a layered cake), and foguete (a sweet pastry made with pumpkin preserve).

Loan words have also entered Sri Lankan English from Hindi (hartal, mahout, lakh) and other Indian languages; from Malay (durian, rambutan, watalappam) and Arabic (jumma, nikah, Ramazan); and of course from Sinhala and Tamil.

C is for coconut tree

Palm trees lining an idyllic tropical beach: one of the standard tourist brochure images of Sri Lanka. Well, they’re not called palm trees here; they’re coconut trees. And like the cliche Eskimo snow, coconut trees are not the only ones: there are also thambili trees, palmyrah trees, kitul trees, arecanut trees, and others. In fact the word “palm” is rarely used in Sri Lankan English; whereas in British English they would be referred to generically as “palm trees”, and the different varieties might be distinguished as coconut palm, kitul palm, arecanut palm, etc.

These type of two-word combinations (or collocations) are an important characteristic of Sri Lankan English, giving it a distinct “local” feel. Look up “coconut” in a standard British dictionary and what do you find? Coconut milk (wrongly defined!), coconut matting, and coconut shy! Here in Sri Lanka, apart from coconut tree and coconut milk, the word is used in a wide variety of combinations: coconut arrack, coconut estate, coconut husk, coconut oil, coconut sambol, coconut scraper, coconut shell, coconut toddy, ...

Similar observations can be made with other common words such as rice and tea:

British English: rice field, rice paper, rice pudding
Sri Lankan English: rice belly, rice cooker, rice flour, rice mill, rice packet, rice puller

British English: teabag, tea break, tea cloth, tea cosy, teacup, tea party, teapot, teashop, teaspoon, tea table, teatime, tea towel, tea trolley (clearly a culturally significant word – drinking tea would appear from this evidence to be a bit of a national obsession!)
Sri Lankan English: tea country, tea dust, tea estate, tea factory, tea leaves, tea plucker (seen from the opposite end of the production process!)

D is for D-rope

“Don’t get caught to UNP’s D-ropes, JVP tells Govt.”

This is one of my favourites from my extensive collection of Sri Lankan newspaper headlines. It wouldn’t mean much to a non-Sri Lankan reader. Apart from the party abbreviations JVP and UNP, it also contains another abbreviation (Govt.) and two idioms (get caught to and D-ropes), none of which are used in standard English. But don’t get me wrong: this is a Sri Lankan newspaper targeting Sri Lankan readers, so this type of language is entirely appropriate. Many British newspaper headlines would be equally obscure to anyone unfamiliar with the finer points of British politics and culture.

The expression to get caught to something is distinctly Sri Lankan. You can get caught to the police, the traffic or the rain (standard English: caught by the police, in the traffic, in the rain), or you can get caught to somebody’s trick (standard English: caught out by somebody). Another authentic newspaper example: “Live happily ever after? Don’t get caught to the fairy tale!”

The expression to give somebody a dead rope (or a D-rope) is interesting because it is translated directly from a Sinhala idiom (‘dirichcha lanuwak’). It means to let somebody down, or lead them up the garden path. Another headline: “State radio’s ‘Prabha dead’ story a dead rope”.

Another expression derived from a Sinhala idiom is AWW (‘ath wana wana’, meaning ‘waving the hands’), which means visiting someone empty-handed, without bringing a gift.

And my favourite British newspaper headline? “Hard Cash Bounces Blank Czech”. It wouldn’t have meant much to anyone who wasn’t following the tennis at the time: it referred to the day in 1987 when Pat Cash beat Ivan Lendl in the Wimbledon final!

E is for ekel

The sshh! sshh! of an ekel broom being used to sweep the compound early in the morning is one of those distinctively Sri Lankan sounds – together with the whooping call of the koha, the plaintive honk of a three-wheeler, the clatter of the kotturoti chopper, the early morning chanting of Buddhist monks, ...

An ekel is the dried stem of the frond of a coconut tree. The word is derived from Tamil (the Sinhala word is iratu), and it is interesting for the fact that it does not appear in the OED, despite being fairly common in English language writing. Apart from its most common use in the ekel broom – an item found in every Sri Lankan home – the ekel has a number of other uses, as seen in these quotes from recent Sri Lankan literature:

Vijita Fernando in “Once, on a Mountainside”, describes how an ekel is used like a skewer in the preparation of oil cakes:

She coaxed the oil cake into a shapely mound twirling the ekel in one hand and basting the cake with the boiling oil with the other. (OM 32)

Michelle de Kretser in “The Hamilton Case”, explains how to feed a gecko:

Harry’s mother had shown him how to feed these lizards, with grains of boiled rice impaled on the point of an ekel. (HC 226)

And Nihal de Silva, in his children’s book “Paduma Meets the Sunbird”, reminds us that an ekel broom is not only used for sweeping the compound, but also as the weapon of choice for harrassed housewives to threaten troublesome kids:

“You’ll get enough practice when she comes after you with an ekel broom.” (PMS 250)

F is for fellow

Recently there was a rat problem at the British Council. An internal email announced “Rat traps have been placed every night. We caught two fellows up to now.” Some foreign teachers were amused by the use of “fellows” to refer to the unfortunate rats.

In standard English the word “fellow” is a rather old-fashioned colloquial word for a man. It is one of many words which survive in Sri Lankan English having fallen out of fashion in contemporary British English. More common alternatives would be chap, bloke or guy, but even these are becoming dated. I am told that “dude” and “geezer” would be more frequently heard today on the streets of London.

The word fellow is used much more frequently in Sri Lanka, and not only to refer to men (“That carpenter fellow is good”), but also to children (“Their small fellow is sick”), and animals - most often pets (“Better take the fellow to the vet”), but also wild animals and birds (“See the fellow putting his beak in the flower”), and even insects and household pests (“Cockroaches all over – bathroom is full of the fellows”).

Another word used in a similar way (to refer to people, but not animals) is bugger – a pretty strong term of abuse in the UK, but much more common and less offensive here in Sri Lanka, and especially used among men. Of course it can still be derogatory (“I scolded the bugger!”), but often it is used in exactly the same way as fellow (“He’s a harmless bugger”).

Another thing which the words fellow and bugger have in common in colloquial SLE is that they can both be used without the article “the” - almost like pronouns: “Fellow didn’t even turn up”, “Buggers are everywhere these days”.

G is for get down

Phrasal verbs such as put out, let down, take up and get round are notoriously difficult for English language learners: their meaning often bears no relation to the meaning of the verb and the particle they consist of; they are complicated grammatically; and they are so very common in colloquial speech. An additional problem is that they are particularly fluid when it comes to different varieties of English. Which explains why Sri Lankan English has a whole set of phrasal verbs of its own, such as put on (“You’ve put on since I last saw you!”), go down (“She’s gone down, no?”) and play out (“He gets played out every time”).

The phrasal verb get down has two uses in SLE which differ from standard British or American usage. To get down (from a vehicle) means to get out or to get off. In SLE you get down from a bus or a car or a trishaw; in British English you get off a bus, or you get out of a car or a trishaw. The matter is complicated by the use of get off: in British English you get off a bus, a train or a plane, or a bike, a horse or a Scooty Pep; while in SLE you can also get off any other vehicle such as a car or a trishaw (but you would normally get down from the bus!).

Secondly, to get something or somebody down means to get that something or somebody from another place (often abroad, in which case it means to import). The expression to bring something or somebody down is used in exactly the same way. Thus you can get down (or bring down) your parents from Jaffna, doctors from Cuba, or rugby players from Fiji; and you can bring down (or get down) toddy from the next village, computer hardware from Colombo, or an Aston Martin from the UK.

None of these uses are found in standard British English, where get down would normally mean to get something or somebody from a physically higher place (“Get down from the roof!” or “Can you get that book down from the shelf?”). The Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary also lists the following idiomatic meanings: to get down: (of children) to leave the table after a meal; to get something down: to swallow something, or to write something down; and to get somebody down: to make somebody feel depressed (“This weather is getting me down!”).

H is for halmassas

Halmassas are sprats, a type of small fish – though not the same fish as the ones referred to as sprats in the UK. British sprats are a type of herring, while Sri Lankan ones are anchovies - delicious deep-fried as a bite, or as an accompaniment to rice and curry, where they make an excellent rice puller.

Halmassa is a Sinhala word, and the plural is halmasso. But it is more common in colloquial Sri Lankan English to use the Anglicised plural halmassas. The same applies to many other Sinhala loan-words in SLE, especially animals: insects (massas, maduruwas and karapottas) and other household pests (meeyas and hikmeeyas); snakes (garandiyas, mapilas and polongas) and other reptiles (thalagoyas and kabaragoyas). Also people (mahanayakes, hamuduruwos and bothal karayas); places (viharayas and dansalas); and objects (pahanas and kalayas). The use of the English plural –s is a sign that a word is behaving as an English word rather than a Sinhala one, and therefore that it has become absorbed into SLE.

Other examples of Sinhala words with Anglicised endings include the famous word asweddumise (meaning to prepare land for paddy cultivation); the ending –fy on colloquial verbs such as rasthiyadufy (meaning to waste time achieving nothing); and the ending –atic on the colloquial adjective godayatic (from goday, meaning roughly – in British slang – “naff”).

I is for islandwide

Islandwide. A seemingly ordinary English word. But one which doesn’t appear in any dictionary that I have seen, not even the 20-volume OED! Which is surprising considering that a Google search brings up 189,000 hits, including examples from islands as diverse as Puerto Rico, Long Island, Dominican Republic, Hawaii, Singapore, Barbados, Bermuda, Jamaica, Jersey, Isle of Wight – and of course Sri Lanka.

But not, interestingly, with reference to Britain, which after all is also an island. I suppose it has always been problematic to use “islandwide” in reference to Britain because of our eccentric political borders: the island called “Britain” (or “Great Britain”) includes three separate countries (England, Scotland and Wales), while “the UK” (“United Kingdom”) also includes part of another island (Ireland). For this reason we prefer "nationwide", which can be used without having to specify whether the "nation" you refer to is England, or Britain, or the UK!

Islandwide is particularly common in SLE, especially in advertisements and newspaper reports. Like “nationwide” it is used both as an adjective (“an islandwide curfew”) and as an adverb (“available islandwide”). When spoken it tends to be pronounced with the stress on the first syllable (“ISlandwide”), whereas in British pronunciation “nationwide” would normally be pronounced with the main stress on the last syllable (“nationWIDE”).

J is for jingbang

If you have been following this column, you might observe that jingbang is the first example of a word which does not actually appear in my book, A Dictionary of Sri Lankan English. It only came to my notice when Dushyanthi Mendis mentioned it in her speech at the launch of the book, and then the Daily Mirror picked up on it in their headline the next day: What is this whole “Jing Bang” about Sri Lankan English?

I had heard the word before, but never thought of it as specifically Sri Lankan. But asking round my colleagues at the British Council, none of them had heard it. A Google search suggested it might be Scottish, since it appears in a dictionary of Glasgow English. But enquiries from Scottish colleagues also drew a blank, suggesting that even if it is of Scottish origin it is not in contemporary use.

But Sri Lankan sources confirmed that it is commonly used, a bit like ‘shebang’ in the expression ‘the whole jingbang’ meaning ‘the whole thing’ or ‘the whole lot’. But while ‘the whole shebang’ normally refers to inanimate things, ‘the whole jingbang’ normally refers to a group of people, for example a gathering of family or friends. Jingbang can also be used like ha-ho to mean a fuss or commotion, as in the Daily Mirror headline above. I recently heard the word used in the context of the Galle Literary Festival. The setting for the first few days of the festival was Galle Fort, but on the last morning “the whole jingbang shifted to the Lighthouse”.

There is some disagreement about whether the word is really jingbang, or whether it should more correctly be jingband. If you have any feelings about this I would be interested to hear from you! Jingbang is one of a number of new entries and updates to the dictionary which can be found on this website.

K is for kottu

The first meal I had when I arrived in Sri Lanka was a Raheema’s kotturoti, and it remained a popular staple for several years. It normally comes in four flavours: chicken kottu, fish kottu, egg kottu or vegetable kottu, and consists of a couple of godamba rotis chopped up on the griddle (or is it a skillet?) with a mixture of vegetables, onons, spices, etc. Kotturoti is traditionally cheap and filling, but it has recently gained a more upmarket image thanks to the “rotti karattaya” at the Commons!

Kottu (or koththu) is a Tamil word (‘kotturoti’ means chopped roti) which has easily become absorbed into Sinhala and into Sri Lankan English. Some readers might be familiar with the Sri Lankan bloggers’ site called And recently a T-shirt has been seen around town with the slogan “Make kottu not war”.

And somehow kottu does seem an apt symbol for things Sri Lankan: hot and spicy like all the best local food; loud and rhythmic in its preparation, as the two metal choppers clatter on the griddle in an ear-splitting rhythm which will surely be banned if proposed sound pollution laws are enforced; and a distictively Sri Lankan blend of Sinhala and Tamil language, culture and cuisine.

L is for lakh

The relationship between Indian English and Sri Lankan English is an interesting one. Of course they have much in common. Both varieties evolved from the English of the British colonials of the 19th century, and much common vocabulary developed to describe the common flora and fauna of the two countries, as well as their shared religious and cultural aspects. Another common factor is the existence of a number of words of Tamil origin in both Indian and Sri Lankan English.

You might expect Indian and Sri Lankan English to be almost identical. And indeed that is the assumption of much that has been written on the subject of “world Englishes” in other countries. There is a tendency to think of SLE as being just a sub-variety of Indian English, an impression encouraged by the relative lack of documentary evidence of SLE as a separate entity.

But anyone who is familiar with both varieties will be aware that this is not the case. In fact it seems to me that in the years since independence there has been remarkably little cross-fertilization between the two, and Sri Lankan English has forged its own quite independent identity. Perhaps this will change with the increasing economic power of India? Already the popularity of Indian satellite TV channels is starting to expose Sri Lanka to more Indian English.

The word lakh is an example of a Hindi word which is an integral part of SLE. It means one hundred thousand, and even the way it is written numerically (1,00,000) is different from the standard convention (100,000). But interestingly the Hindi word crore (meaning 100 lakhs, or 10 million) – which is equally common in Indian English - is hardly used here.

Another difference between Indian and Sri Lankan usage is seen in the way the word lakh is used. In Indian English it is used in the same way as equivalent words such as thousand and million: ‘six lakh rupees’. But in SLE this would normally be expressed as ‘six lakhs of rupees’. These examples from a quick Google search illustrate the difference:

Private security industry generating 10 lakh jobs every year (Economic Times, India)

More than two lakhs of patients attend this hospital for treatment in a year. (, Sri Lanka)

M is for mirisgala

A mirisgala (literally ‘chillie stone’) is a grinding stone – a flat granite slab used for grinding chillies and other spices with a smaller cylindrical stone used somewhat like a rolling pin. It is also considered a requirement for the creation of the tastiest pol sambol. The flatness of the stone I believe is a distinctly Sri Lankan feature – I am told that the nearest Indian equivalent is a concave stone used more like a mortar and pestle.

But who calls it a ‘grinding stone’ today? Mirisgala is one of several Sinhala words for everyday items which have gradually replaced their English equivalents in colloquial SLE. Others include the hiramane, the gurulettuwa, the kulla, the vangediya and the molgaha.

Having chosen the image of a mirisgala for the cover of my book – and subsequently for the associated website – several correspondents (and a couple of journalists) have commented on the appropriacy of the mirisgala as a metaphor for Sri Lankan English:

“Mirisgala is a superb name for the site - all that crushed chilli and onion being such a wonderful metaphor for Sri Lanka (at its best).” (Rohan Titus, email correspondence)

“The mirisgala shows exactly what will happen to a language. One will take the white pol kudu and after a nice grinding it will be spicy enough and well coloured to suit one’s palate. We have symbolically ground up the English that was brought here, flavoured it with all sorts of additions of our own and now it’s our own.” (Dilini Algama, Sunday Times)

N is for not pot

The way you pronounce the letter ‘o’ says a lot about where you come from. Speakers of British English tend to pronounce it with the mouth quite open – though not as open as in American English: witness the pronunciation of ‘hot’ in the phrase “That was really hot!” First language speakers of Sinhala and Tamil tend to pronounce it much more closed, reflecting the way the equivalent letter is pronounced in Sinhala and Tamil. And speakers of “standard Sri Lankan English” pronounce it somewhere between the two.

But “standard Sri Lankan English” pronunciation is hard to pin down. Most speakers of SLE are bilingual to a greater or lesser degree in English and Sinhala or Tamil. Those who identify themselves as “English-speaking” are likely to pronounce the ‘o’ more open, and those who are “Sinhala/Tamil-speaking” are likely to pronounce it more closed.

Not pot English is a derogatory and/or humorous term used by speakers of “standard Sri Lankan English” to describe the way first language speakers of Sinhala and Tamil pronounce the language. The words ‘not’ and ‘pot’ are pronounced with an exaggeratedly closed ‘o’ to imitate an accent that is widely perceived as socially inferior. The term can be patronising, and is rather dated. I have heard it used by a Colombo lady complimenting her driver’s English, but commenting that he “still has a bit of a not pot accent”.

The term is also found in the following quotes from Out of the Darkness (translated into English by Vijita Fernando) and The Giniralla Conspiracy (by Nihal de Silva):

“Why didn’t I realize all this time he was one of those ‘not pot’ English types?” (Out of the Darkness, page 113-4)

“When the interview is over they will laugh at you; call you the not pot fellows.” (The Giniralla Conspiracy, page 74)

O is for otherwise?

“Are you coming for the trip?”

Otherwise? is a one-word positive response to a question, meaning ‘Of course!’ It is a direct translation of the Sinhala equivalent ‘naettang?’ It is pronounced with a steeply rising intonation, from a deep ‘other-’ to a falsetto ‘-wise?’, and usually accompanied by a shocked expression suggesting that the question was absurd. It can seem strange to speakers of other varieties of English, but it is simply an example of the colourful way in which Sri Lankan speakers sometimes express themselves. Another example with exactly the same function is Why not? – except in this case the pitch falls from a high ‘why’ to a lower ‘not’:

“Is this really your car?”
“Why not?”

Of course, of course, has a different function in Sri Lankan English. It acts as a linking expression – like ‘but’, ‘however’, ‘on the other hand’ – to show a contrast between two statements. This use of ‘of course’ – and its position immediately following the subject – make it the equivalent of the Sinhala suffix ‘-nang’:

“Help yourself – I of course don’t want.”

‘Of course’ can of course be used in the same way in standard British English – but only if the contrast is considered to be obvious, previously known to the listener, or scarcely worth mentioning for some reason: “Help yourself - of course I can’t eat it because of my diet.”

P is for polecat

There are three types of civet in Sri Lanka, as described by Andrew Kittle in his article in the April edition of travelsrilanka. The two most interesting in terms of their appearance are the ring-tailed civet, with its distinctively speckled body and ringed tail, and the golden palm civet, with a uniformly golden-brown coat. Both are found only in rural areas and are rarely seen.

Much more likely to be encountered by city dwellers – but only fleetingly, for they are nocturnal and extremely shy – is the common palm civet (paradoxurus hermaphroditus, Sinhala uguduwa), also known as the Indian or Asian palm civet, or colloquially as the palm cat or toddy cat, or polecat. It is the latter term by which it is generally known to lay people, although zoologists will point out that the term is erroneous: a polecat is really a European animal related to the weasel. The error is akin to calling the Sri Lankan land monitor (Sinhala thalagoya) an iguana (which is really a different type of lizard found in South America).

However, my interest is in language as it is used, rather than scientific terminology, and everyone I know calls the common palm civet a polecat! There’s a good chance you have one living in your roof. I have found references to polecats in books by Michael Ondaatje, Carl Muller, A Sivanandan, Tissa Abeysekara, Michelle de Kretser, Nihal de Silva, and Ashok Ferrey. My favourite is from The Hamilton Case by Michelle de Kretser:

Damp and the urine of polecats had drawn a brown map of Africa on the ceiling. (HC 230-1)

In researching my own book I was keen to find an image of a polecat as a reference for an illustration. Several of Sri Lanka’s top wildlife photographers were unable to help – they had photographed every animal in Yala, but not one which probably shared their own homes! Then one evening there was a terrible noise: a polecat had fallen from the rafters and was being attacked by our dog. After pacifying the dog, I was able to get several photographs of the unfortunate polecat, which was in a state of shock. Half an hour later it had disappeared, so hopefully it survived the ordeal.

One of the pictures of the shocked animal accompanies this article: note the grey-black fur, the long snout, the big rounded ears, and the absence of markings on the face. What you can’t see in this picture is the long black bushy tail. This is the Sri Lankan polecat, and it looks quite different from other palm civets I have managed to find in reference books or on the internet.

Q is for quietly

The Sinhala word “heming” can mean slowly, quietly, softly, gently, calmly, coolly, ... also later, at your leisure, in your own time, or tactfully, discreetly, unobtrusively. And in Sri Lankan English the words quietly and slowly are often used (interchangeably) with a similar range of meanings: “I’ll see you quietly”, “Finish it slowly”. Neither of these words would be used in this way in standard English.

Nihal de Silva uses the word quietly to mean ‘later’ in The Far Spent Day:

“Have some lunch and come there quietly. Don’t worry.” (FSD 26)

And in Monsoons and Potholes, Manuka Wijesinghe uses the word slowly to mean ‘secretly’:

“Apo, ... saying he does not eat, he must be slowly buying chocolates and eating, ...” (M&P 261)

R is for rasthiyadu

When asked for my favourite Sri Lankan English word, if nothing else comes to mind, my stock answer is rasthiyadu. Of all the words in SLE, it is the one I would most like to see adopted into international English. It is a superbly expressive word, with a range of uses, all of them redolent of those frustrations that all of us occasionally experience living in Sri Lanka.

The most frequent use of the word rasthiyadu is when someone is described as a rasthiyadu karaya or a rasthiyadu case, meaning a useless person or a loafer – another SLE term referring to a person who either hangs around doing nothing (which is the meaning of the standard English term ‘loafing around’) or gallivants around having a good time but achieving very little. In both senses it suggests wasting time, not doing what you should be doing, or perhaps something more sinister. In any case, a rasthiyadu karaya is not someone you would entrust with an important errand.

The idea of wasting time is also inherent in the other use of the word, which is when you suffer from bureaucratic hassle or go on a wild goose chase and achieve nothing: “Today was a real rasthiyadu!” There might be a convenient rasthiyadu karaya whom you can blame for your predicament (the visa officer? the security guard?), or it might just be bad luck. Either way the end result is frustration. An advert for the Yellow Pages asked: “Does finding a product or service end up leaving you in a total rasthiyadu?”

But don’t misunderstand me. The word may be Sinhala, but the phenomenon is not unique to Sri Lanka. I have experienced rasthiyadu with French bureaucracy, in Indian government offices, and at airport security in several countries – and there are rasthiyadu karayas to be found all over the world. But I haven’t yet come across a word in any other language which expresses the phenomenon as effectively as rasthiyadu. Which is why this word surely has a place in international English.

Rasthiyadu is also one of a number of Sinhala words which can be turned into English verbs in colloquial usage with the addition of the suffix –fy: “We had to rasthiyadufy all morning at the visa office.” Other examples include churuchurufy, gnurugnurufy and kichibichify; komalafy, kunukunufy and kusukusufy; pandanfy, pattafy, poojafy and pulfy. Want to know what they mean? Look them up in the dictionary!

The verb rasthiyadufy even has an Anglicised version, rastify (or rustify?), and a noun form rastification!

This was as far as the original A-Z went before travelsrilanka suspended publication.

See Groundviews for the all-new A-Z of Sri Lankan English at:





Copyright © Mirisgala