What is the funda?

The sylvan campus of the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras is a good degree or two cooler than the rest of the city. Here, deer prance alongside runners in the tracks, rhesus monkeys hang around the residential hostels. At dusk, red-beaked parrots flock over tree-canopies. And the humans – particularly the undergraduates who pass a grueling exam to enter this premier institute – speak to each other in a tongue outsiders cannot understand.

Campus slang is, of course, not supposed to be intelligible to outsiders. But budding engineers in this residential campus spout something that sounds like arcane gibberish to most. And this includes the city’s English-educated Tamilians, who have more than a smattering of other Indian languages at their command. So what is the funda, as they ask around here? Not so long ago, a young linguist from Germany decided to get to the bottom of this mysterious in-language.

In 2005, the research scholar Evelyn Richter arrived on campus to teach German, a humanities requirement. An article in the student magazine, The Fourth Estate, confirmed her suspicions — students spoke to instructors in neutral English, but among themselves they used expressions that took systematic deciphering.  The linguist designed a detailed questionnaire to learn the slang – the how, why and when of it – from the students themselves. The answers provided her plenty of material for etymological analysis.

In her M.A thesis, Richter writes that the IIT Madras campus language borrows heavily from Indian languages as well as American and British slang. Considering the fact that students come from different parts of India– sixty percent are from the neighboring Telugu-speaking Andhra – there are plenty of to choose from. Grammatical peculiarities mark their in-language, as do shortenings and semantic changes of English words.

Arjun Chennu, whose article in the institute newsletter Fourth Estate first alerted Richter to the slang, had written about difficulties new students face in this residential campus. Not only do freshies have to get accustomed to the spartan hostel living and a rigorous academic schedule, they also have to learn a brand-new vocabulary that describes this lifestyle. Even seniors who try to help by putting fundae don’t make sense initially, says Chennu. But within one semester, the undergraduates become fluent in the insti tongue.

The slang has traveled to other educational institutions in the city. In truth, certain expressions which are part of the IIT language, did originate outside this engineering campus. Still, these terms gained cachet only after they became part of the IIT parlance, a fact some non-IITians find hajjar irksome. True, other campuses develop their own slang, but the sheer range and number of expressions here is noteworthy, says Richter.

Some outside junta do appreciate the rich slang, and put in the effort to perfect their IIT-ese, as they call it. One such unabashed aficionado from a local engineering college, G. Vinod, had created a lexicon of the “God-level” lingo on his blog. The online compilation, done during his student days, was an attempt to take the guesswork out of the usage for other devotees. For insiders too, it can be hard to keep up with the evolving slang.

Every generation of students, adds phrases to the existing dictionary — the slang grows organically. Each of the thirteen hostels in this residential campus coins phrases that always don’t propagate insti-wide. A 90s alum could bulb over current words. Terms go extinct. Like vanloon – a word for post-graduate geek who shies away from the BTechs – has not been used since the eighties. “We used to go vanloon-hunting,” recalls Prof. Ram M. Narayan, a ’76 graduate who teaches at Pennsylvania State University.

Alumnae from IIT have gone places, and they have taken the slang with them.  You can hear snatches of this eclectic tongue in the business lounge at Frankfurt airport, or down the Infinite Corridor at MIT. Their language is a veritable Esperanto for IITians. “It lurks beneath the surface and erupts as soon as I start talking to insti friends,” says Chennu.

The slang seems to be a vital part of the institute’s student identity. “After publishing my thesis, I received emails from scores of current IIT Madras students as well as alumni,” says Richter.  The thesis was downloaded over 20,000 times, the linguist adds.  For an academic study, that is amazingly popular. Perhaps the alumnae look up the document wistfully, with nostalgia.

Or joblessly, as they would tell themselves in mock-scorn.

  • Arbit – Something which is not understandable, comes from Arbitrary.
  • Ax – A common suffix
  • Bulb – confused, not knowing what’s going on.
  • Cash – To do well.
  • Cat – a very smart chap.
  • Chumma – Something said or done not seriously.
  • Crack – To solve a problem or to do well.
  • Crash – To go to sleep.
  • Cup – To fail. Comes from the “U” grade which is the fail grade at IIT M.
    The “U” probably looks like a cup, hence the derivation!
  • Deesh – Get lost.
  • Despo – Noun: Someone who studies very hard, Verb: To study very hard.
  • Enthu – Having lots of enthusiasm.
  • Funda, Fundas (also spelt as Fundae) – comes from “fundamentals”. Hi-funda
    means someone who’s very smart or something which is very good. Low
    funda is exactly the opposite.
  • Goodals – To cheat, cheating. e.g. Hostel X did goodals and won the match!
  • Grub – Food.
  • hajjar – Many, actually anything more than 2 (synonyms are “n”, “infinite”).
    insti – Institute, IIT-M itself.
  • Jobless – synonymous with Chumma, having nothing to do
  • Junta – Hajjar people, everyone.
  • Kill – To do very well.
  • OT – Short for “Own Trip”. Someone who’s not very serious about acads, life
    etc is called an OT fellow.
  • Put – do, give, sometimes this word serves no real purpose at all.
  • Pack – To respond negatively, to say “no”.
  • Peace – A positive acknowledgement, or something which is very simple
    to do .
  • Localite – Student from Chennai
  • Muggu – too studious
  • Nice try – ironic comment on a suggestion that is impossible or ridiculous
  • Put – put forth
  • RG – Get ahead of someone in a mean way, short for relative grading.
  • Stud – a very intelligent or well-informed person
  • Thulp – to eat a lot, to do well in a test
  • Vandi   — vehicle, usually a scooter, moped or motorbike