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Jai Ho! Time for millionth-word tag - Expression from Slumdog song in race to enter English dictionary

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By AMIT ROY in London
  • Published 6.06.09
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London, June 6: Subhash Ghai reacted with surprise and pleasure when told by The Telegraph today that the expression Jai Ho, which he had suggested to A.R. Rahman for inclusion in a song, was now a candidate to be declared the millionth word in the English language.

The choice will be made by the Global Language Monitor, a group of academics based in Austin, Texas, who have been tracking the birth of new words in English, “the first truly global language”, since 2003.

Their announcement about which word enters the Oxford English Dictionary as the 1,000,000th word will be made on Tuesday, June 10, at 10.22am local time (2.52pm in India) in Shakespeare’s birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon.

Although Jai Ho is two words in Hindi, the sound, as heard by westerners, turns the expression into one word. The meaning of Jai Ho is given as “it is accomplished”, which demonstrates how difficult the whole art of translation is.

It has several strong competitors to enter English as the millionth word, though. (See chart)

Jai Ho has entered western consciousness as the Oscar-winning song, which runs over the end credits in Slumdog Millionaire and is accompanied by dancing led by the movie’s stars, Dev Patel and Freida Pinto.

In London, where the DVD of the film was released on June 1, segments of Jai Ho are being promoted on advertising boards, for example at London Underground stations, where it is technically possible to play film clips.

In Cannes last month, Ghai, who had come for the film festival, said he got into a taxi only to hear a French version of Jai Ho.

Ghai confirmed today the anecdote that has been doing the rounds for some time — that Danny Boyle, the movie’s director, picked up a song that was rejected as not being quite right for Zayed Khan in Yuvvraaj.

“I told Rahman that I wanted the same word repeated every 30 words in a song -– Jai Ho,” explained Ghai, who added that both Gulzar and Rahman worked on the song.

But Ghai felt it was not quite suitable for Yuvvraaj. “Rahman said Danny Boyle wants a song for the end credits.”

As to why he picked the words Jai Ho, Ghai explained: “We say Jai Ho Krishna. Jai Ho is sacred for Hindus. I never imagined the song would go round the world. But it is attached to a very successful film.”

Paul Payack, president and chief word analyst of the Global Language Monitor, said, “There are three major trends involving the English language today: 1) An explosion in word creation; English words are being added to the language at the rate of some 14.7 words a day; 2) a geographic explosion where some 1.53 billion people now speak English around the globe as a primary, auxiliary or business language; and 3) English has become, in fact, the first truly global language.”

When it was suggested to Ghai that he should give up making movies and focus instead on becoming the Bard of Bollywood, he gave a modest laugh and said the success of Jai Ho was unexpected. “It was just luck.”