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Q From Willy Wilson: I recently read your explanation of the word shufti, meaning a quick look. My father used to use another word to mean the same thing: dekko. I’ve always assumed this was Hindi in origin — am I right?

A Yes, it is indeed from Hindi, from dekho, “See!”, which is the imperative of dekhna, to look. Like the Arabic word shufti, it was borrowed by British servicemen, but it’s rather older; the latter is recorded from the Second World War, whereas dekko is known in print from the latter part of the nineteenth century, having been brought into the language through the British Army in India.

Many early examples are direct recordings of Hindi Speech. This one appeared in the Lima Daily Democratic Times in 1888: “Our ‘gharri’ (carriage) halted suddenly at the entrance of a long, straight avenue flanked by two ranges of lofty trees, and our Bengal driver, pointing to the far end of it with his lean, brown forefinger, said impressively, ‘Dekho, burrah gach wahan hai’ (look, there is the big tree).”

By the time of the First World War, it had long been established as services slang in the way that we spell it now, as Frederic Manning makes clear in The Middle Parts of Fortune about the battles of the Somme and Ancre in 1916: “‘Let’s ’ave a dekko, sir,’ said Sergeant Tozer, taking Mr Finch’s arm. ‘It’s all right,’ said the young man, infuriated; but the sergeant got his arm out of the sleeve, and bandaged a bullet wound near the shoulder.”

Page created 28 May 2005

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Last modified: 28 May 2005.