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URBAN LEXICON – Loan words and local culture

Words from one language often make their way into the vocabulary (and eventually even dictionary) of another, because they label a specific local cultural phenomenon more accurately than their translations can. English, for instance, is the king of taking in such loan words from around the sub-continent.

However, North Indian slang is not far behind when it comes to shaping popular lingo. And here, I’m particularly thinking of the word ‘Tashan’. As a South Indian Semiotician, I found it quite fascinating. I first heard it within a phrase in reference to a chap – “Bande ka kya Tashan hai!”

Wondering what on earth it meant, and on having it explained, I finally decoded it as some kind of amalgam between ‘attitude/showing off/style/cool quotient and swagger’. And later, on watching Punjabi music videos for a project, I saw how Punjabi popular culture celebrates and glorifies ‘Tashan’.

The term ‘Swag’ (as a short form for swagger) may be the best English slang alternative for ‘Tashan’. HinKhoj, the online dictionary, indicates that ‘Tashan’ has entered formal Hindi vocabulary, but has been translated rather staidly as ‘style’, stripping it off its visual image of bravado and swagger.

And if ‘Tashan’ were to now cross the Vindhyas to enter South Indian vocabularies, how would we see its essence morph according to its new linguistic context? That would be an interesting cultural movement and shift to watch for.