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See also: Munshi



The Munshi Abdul Karim (1888) by Rudolf Swoboda.[n 1] The painting, which was commissioned by Queen Victoria, depicts Mohammed Abdul Karim, an Indian attendant of the Queen. She gave him the title of “Munshi” and had him teach her Urdu.

Borrowed from Urdu منشی(munšī, secretary; munshi) or directly from its etymon Persian منشی(monši, secretary; munshi), from Arabic مُنْشِئ‎(munšiʾ, teacher; writer).[1]



munshi (plural munshis)

  1. (South Asia) A clerk or secretary. [from 17th c.]
    • 1773 June 18, “Fifth Report from the Committee Appointed to Enquire into the Nature, State, and Condition, of the East India Company, and of the British Affairs in the East Indies”, in Reports from Committees of the House of Commons, volume III, [London]: Printed by order of the House, OCLC 67886124, page 546, column 1:
      Then Your Committee examined Goneſhamdaſs, who was formerly Moonſhee, or Perſian Tranſlator, to Colonel Graham; [...]
    • 1777 September, “A Code of Gentoo Laws, or Ordinations of the Pundits, from a Persian Translation, Made from the Original, Written in the Shanscrit Language. 4to. London, 1776.—Printed at the Expence of the East India Company, and Not to be Purchased.”, in The Critical Review: Or, Annals of Literature (Series the Fifth), volume XLIV, London: Printed for A. Hamilton, [], OCLC 1015384402, page 182:
      Whoever has memory to retain what he hears, and who ſpeaks ſo intelligibly that no doubt of his meaning ariſes in his audience, and who is a man of good actions, [...] ſuch perſon the magiſtrate ſhall conſtitute his Leekhuk or Moonſhi, and writer.
    • 1795, William Ouseley, “Explanation of the Miscellaneous Specimens”, in Persian Miscellanies: An Essay to Facilitate the Reading of Persian Manuscripts; [], London: Printed for Richard White, [], OCLC 2112808, page 94:
      This, and the two other examples given in the ſame plate, are from manuſcripts written in the coarſe and haſty manner of the Indian Munſhees: the reader muſt not expect, therefore, in ſuch writings, to have his eye delighted with graceful flouriſhes, minute hair-ſtrokes, or elegant combinations.
    • 1849, quoting Paunchkourí Khan, “Art. III.—The Revelations of an Orderly, by Paunchkourí Khan. Being an Attempt to Expose the Abuses of Administration, by the Relation of Every-day Occurrences in the Mofussil Courts. Benares: Printed at the Recorder Press: 1848.”, in The Calcutta Review, volume XI, number XXII, Calcutta: Printed for the proprietor, by Sanders, Cones and Co., [], OCLC 695639494, page 322:
      The next day, as soon as a case was decided, he quietly sneaked out of the room, and, following the successful suitor, signifcantly held out his palm. "To my joy and surprise," says Paunchkourí, "he slipped a rupee into it, and whispered to me to give the múnshí (the Persian clerk) his share.["]
    • 1866 February 26, “Tarakant Bannerjee, versus Puddomoney Dossee and Others”, in D. Sutherland, editor, Judgments of the Privy Council on Appeals from India. From 1831 to 1867, Calcutta: Published by Messrs. Thacker, Spink & Co., published 1867, OCLC 669990114, page 632:
      The moonshees succeeded in that litigation, and the decree in their suit declared the lands to be part of the jote tenure, and limited the zemindar's claim to a title to assess them for rent.
    • 1877 December, “[Literary Notices.] Sleepy Sketches—or How We Live and How We Do Not Live—from Bombay. London: Sampson Low & Co. 1877. [book review]”, in The Dublin University Magazine, a Literary and Political Journal, volume XC, number DXL, London: Hurst & Blackett, []; Dublin: W. Ridings, []; Melbourne, Vic.: George Robertson, OCLC 828212439, page 748, column 2:
      My munshi, a Mohammedan, gave us one morning a long account of what he believed, and what religious observances he had to follow. [...] The munshi smiled, as is the way of munshis, whatever answer is given them, but he asked no more.
    • 2011 June 11, Tessa Hadley, “River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh – review”, in Alan Rusbridger, editor, The Guardian[1], London: Guardian News & Media, ISSN 0261-3077, OCLC 229952407, archived from the original on 17 September 2016:
      The Raja, for example, escaped and, while in disguise, finds work as Bahram's munshi or secretary – but these strands never quite recover the verve of their first outing.
    • 2012 August 15, Bhuvaneshwar Prasad, “Patriotism still on his mind, says freedom fighter Parimal Das”, in The Times of India[2], Mumbai, Maharashtra: The Times Group, OCLC 29515110:
      “Not only my father Garib Das and two elder brothers—Raghav Das and Anurag Das—and brother-in-law Anup Lal were indomitable freedom fighters, but even our ‘munshi’ and domestic servants were greatly touched by the patriotic fervour”, says 83-year-old Parimal Das, a native of village Khajuri in Araria district.
  2. (South Asia) A language teacher, especially one teaching Hindustani or Persian.
    • 1875 April, [John Arthur Bayley], chapter IV, in Reminiscences of School and Army Life, 1839 to 1859, [London?: Privately printed; s.n.], OCLC 969824352, pages 54–55:
      Several of us, at one time or another, engaged "moonshis" or teachers, and tried to learn Hindustani, in which language, with one exception I think, none of us became very proficient.
    • 1875 December 11, “The Prince of Wales and the Native Church of Tinnevelly”, in The Church Missionary Intelligencer and Record, a Monthly Journal of Missionary Information, volume I (New Series), London: Church Missionary House, []; Seeley, Jackson, and Halliday, []; Hatchard and Co., []; and J. Nisbet and Co., [], published February 1876, OCLC 227869853, page 66:
      [A] beautifully-bound Tamil Bible and Prayer Book were brought over from the body of Christians on the other side the line by Edward Muttiyathillay, the munshee who had rendered such efficient help in the translation of both these books.
    • 2008 October 14, Amitav Ghosh, chapter 6, in Sea of Poppies (Ibis Trilogy; 1), London: John Murray, →ISBN; 1st Picador edition, New York, N.Y.: Picador, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009, →ISBN, pages 127–128:
      This meant that Paulette had learnt a good deal of Latin from her father, while also absorbing Indian languages from the learned munshis who had been enlisted to assist the curator with his collections.
    • 2012 August, Sarah Bradford, “Merry Monarch: Bertie: A Life of Edward VII: By Jane Ridley: Chatto & Windus 496pp £30 [book review]”, in Literary Review[3], number 401, London: The Literary Review & Quarto, ISSN 0144-4360, OCLC 633283688, archived from the original on 22 May 2019:
      When [Queen] Victoria died Bertie took his revenge by expunging every personal trace of her life at Windsor, dismantling her rooms (which he then occupied), and burning her letters to her Indian servant, the ‘Munshi’, in the latter’s presence.

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