Many English words connected with weaving come from India

Monday, March 6th, 2023

After a number of bruising encounters with the Dutch, William Dalrymple’s explains (in The Anarchy), the East India Company left the lucrative Spice Islands and their aromatic spice trade to focus on less competitive but potentially more promising sectors of the trade of Asia: fine cotton textiles, indigo and chintzes. The source of all three of these luxuries was India:

India then had a population of 150 million — about a fifth of the world’s total — and was producing about a quarter of global manufacturing; indeed, in many ways it was the world’s industrial powerhouse and the world’s leader in manufactured textiles. Not for nothing are so many English words connected with weaving — chintz, calico, shawl, pyjamas, khaki, dungarees, cummerbund, taffetas — of Indian origin.


In comparison, England then had just 5 per cent of India’s population and was producing just under 3 per cent of the world’s manufactured goods.


A good proportion of the profits on this found its way to the Mughal exchequer in Agra, making the Mughal Emperor, with an income of around £100 million, by far the richest monarch in the world.


For their grubby contemporaries in the West, stumbling around in their codpieces, the silk-clad Mughals, dripping in jewels, were the living embodiment of wealth and power — a meaning that has remained impregnated in the word ‘mogul’ ever since.

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