This is a list of English words that are directly or ultimately of Tamil origin. The list is by no means exhaustive. Relatively few instances can be considered direct borrowings from Tamil, as most of the borrowed forms have entered English through European languages, such as Portuguese or Dutch (the Portuguese and Dutch were among the first Europeans to have traded with South India), Arabic, Persian or Hindi-Urdu.
Sanskrit being the mother of all languages plays a big role in both Tamil and English. If you ask me which language is older between Sanskrit and Tamil. I will say Tamil but Sanskrit is made by Tamilians as the language of teachings of literature. Some believe the languages run parallel along the timeline.
- alvar : from Tamil ālvār, derivative of ār- sink, be absorbed
- Bandana : from Sanskrit बन्धन bandhan, “a bond”. From Tamil pantham “a bond”,pathu “hold together, attachment”, atta “hold tightly, a leech”, ottu “stick”, othu “bind together, make love”
- catamaran: from Tamil கட்டுமரம் kattumaram (“kattu”=tie up, “maram”=tree/wood)
- corundum: from a Tamil word for ‘ruby’, குருந்தம் kuruntham or குருவிந்தம் kuruvintham
- kabaddi : From the Tamil word (கை-பிடி) “kai” (hand), “pidi” (catch), which could be translated into “Holding Hands”.
- mulligatawny: from Tamil மிளகுத்தண்ணீர் milagu-tanneer from milagu black pepper and tanneer, water
- mung bean : from Tamil mūngu, ultimately from Sanskrit mudga
- pariah: from Tamil பறையர் paṟaiyar, plural of பறையன் paṟaiyaṉ “drummer”. The meaning of “drummer” dates to 1613 (via Portuguese ?), but the current extended meaning of “outcast” for pariah is first attested in 1819.
- patchouli: from Tamil pachchai பச்சை (green), and ellai இலை (leaf).
- pandal: from Tamil பந்தல் pandhal
- poon : 1690–1700; from Tamil punnai, pinnai, Malayalam punna names for Calophyllum inophyllum
- tutenag: from Tamil துத்தநாகம் thuthanaagam meaning “raw zinc” (Source: OED)
- Verandah or Veranda : from Tamil வெறுந்தரை veruntharai – Verum வெறும் (empty) + tharai தரை (floor or space) – A roofed opened gallery
- vetiver: from Tamil வெட்டிவேர் vettiver; a tropical Indian grass; Botanical name: Vetiveria zizanioides; its aromatic roots are used for weaving screens and baskets and the oil in perfumery
- anicut: from Tamil anaikattu, (“anai”=dam, “kattu”=building/structure)
- Palmyra: from Tamil Pannamarrum/Pannai, (Marram = Tree)
- Sambal : through Afrikaans, Malay, and Tamil சம்பல்
- anaconda : possibly from Tamil ஆனை கொன்றன் aanai kondran, elephant killer.
- cash : Tamil காசு kācu
- coolie : from கூலி cooli a Tamil word for “labour”. Alternatively, it could refer to a tribe from Gujarat, whose members were frequently employed as manual laborers.
- ginger: The English word ginger is derived from the Middle English gingivere, which in turn comes from Old English gingifer and from Old French gingivre, both from Medieval Latin gingiber. The Latin word is derived from Greek ζιγγίβερις zingiberis, of Middle Indic origin (akin to Pali सिन्गिभेरम् singiveram), from Dravidian roots, akin to Tamil இஞ்சி வேர் iñcivēr — இஞ்சி iñci = ginger (of southeast Asian origin) + Tamil வேர் vēr = root.
- godown : via Malay gudang, from a Dravidian origin, cf. Kannada gadangu, Tamil கிட்டங்கி (கிடங்கு) Kittangi (kidangu/kodangu) “store room”
- Moringa : exact origin unknown, cf. Tamil முருங்கை murungai , Tamil word for drumstick
- candy : late 13c., “crystalized sugar,” from O.Fr. çucre candi “sugar candy,” ultimately from Arabic qandi, from Pers. qand “cane sugar,” probably from Skt. khanda “piece (of sugar),” perhaps from Dravidian (cf. Tamil kantu “candy,” kattu “to harden, condense”). As a verb, attested from 1530s; hence, candied (c.1600)
- cheroot : via French cheroute, from Tamil சுருட்டு suruṭṭu, roll or rolled
- cheetah : via Sanskrit चित्रस chitra-s “uniquely marked”, from Tamil சிறுத்தை ‘chiruthai’
- Cochin-china : old name of a region and French colony in southern Vietnam, from Fr. Cochin-China, from Portuguese corruption of Ko-chen, of uncertain meaning; the China added to distinguish it from the town and port of Cochin in southwest India, the name of which is Tamil, perhaps from கொஞ்சம் koncham “little,” in reference to the river there
- cot : “small bed”, 1630s via Hindi khat “couch, hammock,” from Skt. khatva (Dravidian source: Tamil கட்டில் kattil “bedstead”)
- cowrie : “small shell”, via Hindi and Urdu kauri, from Mahrati kavadi, from Skt. kaparda (Source : Tamil கொடு kotu “shell”)
- curry : via Hindi-Urdu from Tamil கறி kaṟi “sauce” (Source: OED, AHD, MWD)
- Orange : through Old French orenge, Medieval Latin orenge and Italian arancia from Arabic نارنج naranj, via Persian نارنگ narang and Sanskrit नारङ्ग naranga-s meaning “an orange tree”, derived from Tamil நாரத்தம் narathang.
- poppadom : via Hindi-Urdu or Punjabi, from Malayalam or Tamil பப்படம் pappaṭam, ultimately Sanskrit पर्पट parpaṭa “a kind of thin cake made of rice or pease-meal and baked in grease” or “a thin crisp cake” (Source: OED)
- portia tree : ultimately from Tamil பூவரசு puvarasu (Source: OED)
- rice : The English word rice is not borrowed from the Greek word “oruza” ((μαγειρ.) ὄρύζα), as previously thought (and found in older handbooks), nor is it a direct borrowing from Tamil அரிசி arici. The relation between Engl. rice and Tamil அரிசி arici is in fact more complicated, as demonstrated in more recent researches. Although Engl. rice is indeed ultimately from (Old) Tamil, the “rice” word has entered English, through several intermediary languages, notably via Church Latin, (Old) French, (Old) Spanish, (Old) Italian and Arabic.
- navigate : From Middle English navigate, from Latin navigo, from nāvis (“ship”) + agō (“do”), from Proto-Indo-European *nau- (boat), possibly, from Tamil நாவாய் (nāvāi).
- Singh : via Hindi सिंह Singh finally from Sanskrit सिंहः simhah which means “a lion”, from Tamil சிங்கம் singam
- sugar : through Old French sucre, Italian zucchero, Medieval Latin succarum, Arabic: سكر sukkar and Persian: شکر shakar ultimately from Sanskrit शर्करा sharkara which means “ground or candied sugar” (originally “grit” or “gravel”), from Tamil சக்கரை sakkarai.
Can you think of any words that sound the same?