Madras Bashai – The Flamboyant Lingo of Chennai


Author – Arvinda Soundararajan

Chennai Slang

Tamil Nadu has been hogging the headlines over the last few months for various reasons. First it was the state’s beloved Amma’s death, then the Jallikattu controversy and now the tussle for the Chief Minister’s post. The state capital Chennai is in the spotlight of national media due to these controversies, so the Tamil Nadu language spoken by localities is of interest.

Tamil has various dialects spoken in the various regions of the state – Kongu Tamil in Coimbatore, Madurai Tamil, Tirunalveli Tamil, Trichy Tamil and of course the Chennai Tamil (Madras Bashai). Chennai Tamizh/tamil is an amalgamation of the various dialects along with words borrowed from other languages like Malayalam, Telugu and Hindi.

‘A local dialect spoken in a multilingual context’ — this is how V. Arasu, head of department of Tamil Literature at the University of Madras, describes Madras Tamil. Chennai being a mega metropolis, there are multitudes of people from across India and abroad.  It does not take much time to catch up with this slang irrespective of where one is from. Although it is hard to find locals talking in Hindi, they do understand the language. This scene is changing due to migration of many North Indians to Chennai in search of work.

Another language that can be easily understood by the locals is that particular dialect of Telugu spoken by those natives of Andhra, who have settled down in Tamil Nadu since many generations. Their Telugu consists of a large collection of Tamil words and is hence easy to understand. However, it is necessary for every person living in Chennai to learn a few Tamil words/phrases for simple conversations at the grocery store or for bargaining with autowallahs.

You can find the youth calling each other ‘machan’ or ‘machi’ (meaning dude) or adding a suffix  ‘da’ at the end of every sentence. One must also not feel offended if they are addressed as ‘nee’/ ‘unakku’ instead of ‘neenga’ or ‘ungalku’ (generally used to address with respect). This is not a deliberate attempt to degrade someone; it is just the informal way of city life.

The Tamil syllable ‘zha’ is often pronounced as’ya’ or ‘la’ as in ‘vaala palam’ instead of ‘vazha pazham’ (banana). Another common syllable used is ‘dichu’ instead of ‘urthu’ as in ‘poidichu’ instead of ‘poiruthu’ (gone).

‘Mokka’ (as in a lame joke),’bandha’ (show-off), ‘semma’ (superb), ‘vetti’ (joblessness, used among friends, but not in  a derogatory manner)-these are some slang words one might learn within a few weeks from staying in Chennai.

Other than the certain stereotypical syllables like – ‘aa’ as in ‘right-aa?’ (Is that right?) or ‘apadiyaa’ (Is that so?) and ‘u’ as in ‘left-u’ or ‘turn-u’, one must know certain other terms to enjoy a conversation with a local.

Some common slang words in Madras Bashai are:

Aapu – failure
Aalinaal Alaguraaja – Jack of all arts
Aattaya poadrathu – to steal
Adjist – adjust
Allo – Hey there!
Annthanda po – go that side
Ayye – So?
Bulb vanguruthu – to get embarrassed
Bejaar – Nuisance
Bittu – generally refers to a strip of paper used to copy during exams
Dabbu/Dhuddu – money
Daada – Don
Da/Di – similar to ‘yaar’
Dhool – well done
Enna/Inna – what?
Es agurudhu – to escape
Free-ah-viddu – to take matters easily
Gaandu – to get irritated
Galatta – chaos/celebrations
Gethu – super
Golti – generally used to refer Telugu people
Jujubee – small/unimportant
Kadalai – to flirt
Kalkarudhu – impressive
Kalaikarudhu – to make fun of someone
Kamnati – a jerk
Kenai – fool
Kottikarudhu – to eat shamelessly
Lollu – banter
Maamiyar veedu – lockup/police station
Marramandai – block head, one who doesn’t think much
Mokka/blaydu – lame jokes/talk
OB adikuruthu – to waste time
OC – free, at no cost
Pakki – refers to an individual who eats shamelessly
Padips – nerd
Reel – lame excuse
Semma – very. Alternatively used for ‘superb’
Sappa Matter – very easy thing
Superstar – generally refers to actor Rajnikanth
Tubelight – person who is absentminded
Thala – head of a gang. Also refers to actor Ajith
Yechuse-me – excuse me!

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