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Sri Lankan English - Updates A

This page contains updates to the dictionary beginning with the letter A. It is divided into 2 parts: New Entries, and Comments and Corrections. Click here to return to the main updates page, or on the links on the left side of the page to go to another letter.

These pages are updated regularly; please contact me if you have any suggestions or feedback which can be included.


abstain: to abstain from (doing) something: to avoid (doing) something, to refrain from (doing) something, to choose not to do something (SAE)
> In standard usage, to abstain is to choose not to vote, and to abstain from something is normally used in the context of alcohol, sex, etc. In SLE it is used in a wider range of contexts, and is more common with a verb: to abstain from taking, consuming, etc., and to abstain from voting (which is a tautology in standard usage).
From the time he was a small child he abstained from eating meat. ( 10/99)
While India would not vote against Sri Lanka it may abstain from voting … ( 26/02/12)
The five precepts are abstaining from the destruction of life, abstaining from taking that which is not given, abstaining from sexual misconduct, abstaining from falsehood and abstaining from intoxicants that cloud the mind and cause carelessness. (Daily Mirror 28/11/12)

abuses: to hurl abuses: to hurl abuse (SAE)
“We are asking the government not to hurl abuses at us.” (Daily Mirror 30/11/11)
“Those who hurl abuses at him should also have been involved in the compilation of such reports sent to the COPE, …” (Daily Mirror 09/01/12)
These accusations led to unruly scenes in the floor of the House with several government MPs hurling abuses and rushing towards the UNP MP seated in the front row of the opposition benches. (Sunday Times 05/12/10)

accident ward: accident and emergency department
“Uncle! Come soon to the accident ward, it’s Shan!” (Can You Hear me Running, by Lal Medawattegedara, page 64)
Fellow workers gathered and rushed Andy in a three wheeler to the accident ward of the General Hospital. (Rainbows in Braille, by Elmo Jayawardena, page 16)

addl.: (abbr.) additional (SAE)
Addl. Secy.
No one who was there would disagree with what the Addl. GA told his superiors in Colombo … (Palmyra Fallen, by Rajan Hoole, page 226)

adhi poya: an extra poya day added when 2 full moon days fall in the same month (Sinhala)
> See A-Z of Sri Lankan English: A is for Adhi Vesak
On August 1 we observed Nikini Poya while the 31st would be known as Adhi Binara Poya. On September 29 we would observe Binara Poya.
When a month has two Full Moon Poya days, the second would be known as an Adhi Poya. The extra poya day is inserted into the Buddhist lunar calendar to ensure that it stays in sync with the western (solar) calendar. When this happens, there is a Full Moon Poya at the beginning of a month and another at the end.
This phenomenon occurs every two-and-a-half to three years when an extra lunar month known as Adhi Masa (the lunar month in which the extra poya takes place) happens. This occurs due to the difference in a mean solar month (30 days) and a lunar month (about 28/29.5 solar days). (Sunday Observer 26/08/12)

Adivasi (= Veddah): the aboriginal community of Sri Lanka (SAE, from Sanskrit – Indian term coined in the 1930s for all indigenous tribes, now also used to refer to the Sri Lankan Veddah community)
Adivasi people participate in cultivation of medicinal plants (ITN news online 19/09/2010)

after liquor: drunk, under the influence of alcohol
The Missi never turned him away, except when he went there after liquor. (The Mango Tree, by Anthea Senaratna, page 114)
59 nabbed driving after liquor (Island 01/06/03)
“Many of these fathers come home after liquor and rape their daughters,” pointed out the OIC. (Sunday Leader 12/06/05)
Was Army driver after liquor? (Sunday Times 13/02/11)
The children tremble in fear when their father comes home after liquor … (Island 27/03/11)
Some of them are after liquor very often at night, … (comment on 30/01/15)
But he totally denied that he was after liquor at the time of the accident. ( 31/05/16)

agency house: a company which finances and manages tea estates, etc. (> visiting agent)
… through broker or Agency Houses which could even get credit ‘often without any tangible security’. (Nobodies to Somebodies, by Kumari Jayawardena, page 137)
Known in the trade as ‘agency houses’, these firms received an agreed percentage of earnings from the plantations they financed and managed. (Ceylon Tea: The Trade that Made a Nation, by Richard Simon, page 36)
The most important of these were the agency houses, which … provided financial, procurement, management and sales services to plantations and also undertook various legal and secretarial activities on their behalf; ... (Ceylon Tea: The Trade that Made a Nation, by Richard Simon, page 65)
And so, throughout the twentieth century, the agency houses waxed great and powerful, dominating the Ceylon tea trade. (Ceylon Tea: The Trade that Made a Nation, by Richard Simon, page 69)
The agency houses, whom the state’s own commissioners had rubbished as incompetent, self-interested, prone to shady dealings and liable to filch any golden eggs placed in their trust, had been chosen by the government to be put in charge of the goose. (Ceylon Tea: The Trade that Made a Nation, by Richard Simon, page 199)

Ahikuntika: (also Ahikuntaka) a member of a low-caste gypsy community of South Indian origin, traditionally engaged in palm-reading and snake-charming
The Ahikuntakas who speak Telugu, a Dravidian language widely spoken in the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh probably have their origins in that part of peninsular India. (Zeylanica, by Asiff Hussein, page 451)
The settlement of Ahikuntikas in Vakarai would commence next year. ( 16/08/2007)

airlift: (v) fly, transport by plane (also Africa)
> In standard usage, airlift is normally used (mainly as a noun, but also as a verb) to refer to transporting a large quantity of supplies, soldiers, etc, for example in an emergency.

The Foreign Employment Bureau promised to airlift the body to Sri Lanka soon. (Daily Mirror 26/06/08)
Minister Wimal Weerawansa who suffered a heart attack and was admitted to the Kurunegala Teaching hospital was to be airlifted to the Colombo National Hospital in a short while, hospital sources said. (Daily Mirror 23/08/12)
Romesh Kaluwitharana, Sri Lanka A team coach, was airlifted to Colombo from Hambantota due to a cardiac issue. (Ceylon Today 14/10/14)
His family sought help from a Muslim businessman, who used his connections and had him airlifted to Colombo Hospital. (Palmyra Fallen, by Rajan Hoole, page 110)
… eight of the nine Tiger guerrilla cadres captured in the high seas off Mullaitivu were airlifted from the Trincomalee naval command to a secret location for debriefing. (Palmyra Fallen, by Rajan Hoole, page 478)
The LTTE wanted the Government to airlift him to medical care. (A Long Watch, by Ajith Boyagoda and Sunila Galappatti, page 156)

Airmen: (in newspaper reports) Air Force Sports Club rugby team (> Cops, Sailors, Soldiers)
Airmen Aim To Fly High This Season (Sunday Leader 30/05/10)
The Airmen pride themselves on the fact that they have a good back division. (Sunday Times 29/11/15)

aiye (= aiya): elder brother (a familiar term of address) (Sinhala)
“Don’t be wicked, Wimal Aiye, …” (Rainbows in Braille, by Elmo Jayawardena, page 61)
“Aney Aiye. Don’t be angry.” (Chinaman, by Shehan Karunatilaka, page 339)
“Please let me go, aiyee, I’m late.” (Playing Pillow Politics at MGK, by Lal Medawattegedara, page 170)

ala dosi: a type of sweet made with potatoes (Sinhala) (> dosi)
Ala Dosi is one of the Sri Lankan traditional sweets prepared during the Sinhala and Tamil new year. ( 10/04/14)

ala hodi: mild potato curry with kiri hodi (Sinhala)
I tried the Ala Hodi recipe and it came out really nicely. (comment on 03/09/11)

all-island (= islandwide): nationwide, all over the country (also Jamaica, Ireland)
“All-island powercut.” (Chinaman, by Shehan Karunatilaka, page 156)
The final segment of the 30th All Island Schools Games, organized by the Ministry of Education will get underway this morning. (Daily News 02/08/14)

already: (word order)
“See, will you, already she has refused so many proposals.” (All is Burning, by Jean Arasanayagam, page 118)
“Already they have bought Ari and Brian out.” (Chinaman, by Shehan Karunatilaka, page 152)

amawaka poya: the monthly new-moon day (Sinhala) (> atawaka poya)
The ceremony was held on Amavaka Poya Day in August to bestow merit on departed parents. (Daily News 04/08/16)

ambula: a curry flavoured with tamarind or goraka (Sinhala)
… brightly coloured palangans piled with ambulas, curried fish, malluns, sambols and hot rice with saucers stacked into the steaming piles. … There was a pink glow within the heart of the polos ambula, segment after segment falling apart as it crumbled in our fingers. (A Nice Burgher Girl, by Jean Arasanayagam, page 132)

ambun: a large variety of banana (Sinhala)
Ambun is cultivated in the wet zone both low country and up country. (Daily News 21/11/02)

Amdan: a name for someone who is tough and/or crafty, a humorous character who appears in popular Sinhala jokes known as “Amdan jokes” (see quotes below for different theories on the origin of the word)
Besides, some feel that Malinga is Sri Lanka cricket’s “Amden”. (Sunday Times 10/03/13)
Heard of Amdan? Maybe in school when friends shared a few crude jokes about him. Or maybe he was likened to someone who is tough, manipulative and crafty- someone you wouldn’t want to cross. While ‘Amdan’ is a popular slang word in Sinhala and Tamil language, its origins go far beyond the Indian Ocean; to about a century ago in troubled Germany. It was in 1914, when the First World War erupted and the German Navy was a competing overlord of the seas with their monstrous dreadnoughts, battleships, battle cruisers and submarines. Among their fleet of war ships, was a light cruiser. A cleverly designed light cruiser the SMS ‘Emden’ boasted a band of ruthless sailors. And that’s where the bold Sri Lankan ruffian- Amdan, gets his name. (Sunday Times 06/03/11)
But the most unusual name was Amden. This was a middle aged woman from the neighbouring village who did not seem to have anything else to do but to float about the villages, stopping for a bit of gossip, a chew of betel or a meal if someone was feeling extra hospitable. Amden? That was not a name familiar to anyone in the village. And no one knew how she came by it. Later some wise guy said that there was a ship or a boat or a sloop named Amden that cruised the sea on the western coast of the island, between Mannar and Negombo. So she also floated about just like the ship! And that is how she came to be known by this unusual (foreign?) name! (Somewhere, by Vijita Fernando, page 45)

amuredi: plain white cotton cloth (Sinhala)
Even the curtains ... are of thick white amuredi that reluctantly let in the persistent and harsh midday sunlight. (Fifteen, by Ameena Hussein, page 34)

Anandian: a student or former student of Ananda College, Colombo (> Royalist)
Reminiscences of an Old Anandian (Island 11/11/07)
A sensational batting knock from the Anandian opening batsman … ( 06/03/16)

and give: (coll.) (common in requests in SLE, but superfluous in standard usage)
Cut and give. (BSE: Can you cut it for me?)
Can you make and give by tomorrow? (BSE: Can you make/repair it for me by tomorrow?)
“… asking for me to polish and give.” (Spit and Polish, by Carl Muller, page 16)

annexed: attached (SAE)
Please find annexed a copy of the deed.
The commissioner General of Examinations had revealed that a student who sat for the Advanced level examination last year had annexed Rs 15000 … [and] had written a note stating grievances requesting to give pass marks for the examination. … The money that was annexed had been credited to the account of the department of examinations and the related student had been requested to be present at the department and had been told after investigations that this breaking rules and regulations. ( 30/07/13)

appam (= hopper) (Tamil; Sinhala aappa) (> paal appam)
… the appam and fish curry that constituted his favourite morning meal, … (The Sweet and Simple Kind, by Yasmine Gooneratne, page 404)
… Amma bought lentils for vadai, stirred batter for appam … (Island of a Thousand Mirrors, by Nayomi Munaweera, page 125)

arahat: (in Buddhism) a person who has attained nibbana (Sanskrit)
The Theravada Buddhist such as himself could only aim to become an arahat. (Theravada Man, by Manuka Wijesinghe, page 45)

arecanut cutter (= giraya): an implement used to slice arecanut in the preparation of betel
… gold-inlaid areca nut cutters, … (The Hamilton Case, by Michelle de Kretser, page 16)

… arecanut cutters in the shape of women, … (The Mirror of Paradise, by Asgar Hussein, page 137)
In the Anuradhapura Museum an arecanut cutter dating back to 993 AD is on display. (The Island 16/03/02)
Madushani said her father was completely unarmed at the time with only an arecanut cutter in his hands. (Daily Mirror 18/08/07)

arid zone: the driest part of the dry zone of Sri Lanka
The dry zone is further divided into the arid zones of the north-west and south-east, which receive less than 60 cm (23 ½ in) of rain as they are not in the direct path of the monsoonal rains. (Wild Sri Lanka, by Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne, page 32)

arrack cocktail: a cocktail made with arrack and fruit juice
She has ordered an arrack cocktail: arrack, passion fruit cordial and ice. (Homesick, by Roshi Fernando, page 185)

arrack farming: (hist.) a system of tax collection during colonial times, in which an annual payment was made in return for the right to sell arrack in a certain area; also arrack farm
> This term has nothing to do with the common meaning of farming (agriculture). It is derived from the standard English term tax farming, which means ‘farming out’ the collection of taxes, tolls and other sources of revenue to private individuals or organisations. Auctions would be held annually for the farm for each district. The winner of this auction, who therefore had a monopoly on arrack sales in that district, was called an arrack renter.
In the Western Province, the Collector of the Colombo kachcheri was responsible for supplying arrack and organizing the arrack farms of the town of Colombo and of the Korales of the region, … (Nobodies to Somebodies, by Kumari Jayawardena, page 41)
The value of the Colombo arrack farm had grown over the century … (Nobodies to Somebodies, by Kumari Jayawardena, page 90)
A pamphlet on arrack farming, commenting on the monopoly practices in the renting system, … (Nobodies to Somebodies, by Kumari Jayawardena, page 118)
Whereas the majority of renters had made their first profits in arrack farming and then ventured into graphite and plantation crops, … (Nobodies to Somebodies, by Kumari Jayawardena, page 192)

arrack renter (= tavern renter): (hist.) arrack merchant or retailer; also arrack rent, arrack renting (> arrack farming, renter)
These families were to emerge in later years as important arrack renters, … (Nobodies to Somebodies, by Kumari Jayawardena, page 32)
From being a marginal occupation where small sums of money could be made, arrack renting became an important source of wealth. (Nobodies to Somebodies, by Kumari Jayawardena, page 50)
There seems to have been keen competition for the arrack rents of the maritime regions … (Nobodies to Somebodies, by Kumari Jayawardena, page 113)
So what if our ancestors were arrack-renters? by Kumari Jayawardena (Sunday Island 03/07/05)
… low-country Sinhalese businessmen who had made money from arrack-renting and the manufacture of copra, … (The Sweet and Simple Kind, by Yasmine Gooneratne, page 22)
Mr de Silva’s famous ancestor … had at one time been proud possessor of almost every single arrack rent on the Colombo coast. (The Professional, by Ashok Ferrey, page 71-2)

arrack tavern: a small bar serving arrack (> toddy tavern)

Arrack taverns spread to the remoter areas of the Central Province, … (Nobodies to Somebodies, by Kumari Jayawardena, page 101)
The higher value of the arrack taverns meant that the money or value of property needed as security also rose … (Nobodies to Somebodies, by Kumari Jayawardena, page 116)

aru: river (in the names of rivers) (Tamil)
It was on July 20 the LTTE closed the Mavil Aru sluice gate, denying water to more than 15,000 families and thousands of acres of paddy land. (Sunday Times 06/08/06)

… changing Manal Aru’s distinctly Tamil name to Weli Oya, a Sinhalese one; … (Palmyra Fallen, by Rajan Hoole, page 285)
… the largest of these, the Verugal Aru, is actually a substantial river in its own right. (Sri Lanka: The Island from Above, by Richard Simon, page 24)

as: such as
… (while freeing imports on items as chillies and onions produced in the North it protected the Southern farmer who produced rice and potatoes). (Palmyra Fallen, by Rajan Hoole, page 322)
… there was nearly always a proximate provocation as shooting, a bomb attack or armed activity. (Palmyra Fallen, by Rajan Hoole, page 444)

atawaka poya: one of the two monthly half-moon days (Sinhala) (> poya)
> Strictly speaking there are four poya days per month, on the days of the full moon (pasaloswaka poya), the new moon (amawaka poya), and the two half-moon days (atawaka poya). All four are days of religious observances for practising Buddhists, but only the monthly full-moon day is a public holiday. During the period when Sri Lanka adopted the Buddhist lunar calendar (1966-70), all four days were holidays (the equivalent of Sunday).
When we visited it was an atawaka Poya, and complete silence prevailed among the group that was meditating, … (Sigiriya & Beyond, by Neranjana Gunetilleke et al, page 206)

attiyal: a necklace, an item of Kandyan jewellery (Sinhala/Tamil) (> padakkam)
My grandmother looked out of the portrait with her heavy, inscrutable face, her attiyals, padakkams, necklaces, mukukuththi, bracelets, earrings. (All is Burning, by Jean Arasanayagam, page 220)
The traditional set of ‘attiyal’ and ‘padakkam’, … worn particularly by Kandyan women, is Tamil in origin, as the names denote. ( 25/01/13)
Women usually wear “Pathakkam” along with “Attiyal” for occassions. “Attiyal” is worn tight on the neck, while “Pathakkam” is worn long towards the chest. (

auspicious time (= nekatha): the precise time at which something should be done according to astrology, e.g. the start of a wedding ceremony, the lighting of the hearth at New Year, starting to build a new house, etc.
He had already announced the auspicious time for the commencement of the project. (Can You Hear me Running, by Lal Medawattegedara, page 49)
The traditional coconut oil lamp was lit at the auspicious time, … (Rainbows in Braille, by Elmo Jayawardena, page 79)
Moira’s astrologer had advised that the auspicious time for the wedding ceremony was at one-fifteen in the afternoon, … (The Sweet and Simple Kind, by Yasmine Gooneratne, page 193)
Not that there was an auspicious time coming up, so to speak, to meet the parents. (Stable Horses, by Vihanga Perera, page 98)

“I need to find an auspicious time for my sister’s wedding and I have heard that there is a good astrologer in this village.” (Theravada Man, by Manuka Wijesinghe, page 21)

(= trishaw, three-wheeler, tuk-tuk): (coll.) a small three-wheel taxi (Tamil)
> Auto is the term commonly used in the North and East of Sri Lanka, and also in South India.
From Vavuniya station she took an auto to the hospital. (Song of the Sun God, by Shankari Chandran, page 254)
As she left the hotel and tried to hail an auto, she looked across the Galle Road. (Song of the Sun God, by Shankari Chandran, page 313)

avail: (vt) make use of, take advantage of (an offer or opportunity) (SAE)
> In standard usage, avail is used in the rather formal expression to avail oneself of something: If you wish to avail yourself of the offer, …
It is a limited time offer until stocks last and to avail the benefits of this offer, customers can visit the nearest Union Bank branch at their earliest or call the bank’s 24-hour contact centre. (Daily Mirror 16/02/16)
To avail this offer log on to or contact your travel agent. ( 2016)
Coupon to be presented only at the SLT Regional Office before availing the service. (SLT brochure 01/17)

ayurvedic: related to ayurveda (traditional indigenous herbal medicine)
Ayurvedic treatment had been mooted, consultations with leading gynaecologists in Colombo and London having failed to produce a result. (The Hamilton Case, by Michelle de Kretser, page 104)
… mixed with the aroma of teas, spices, ayurvedic medicinal balms, ... (Swimming in the Monsoon Sea, by Shyam Selvadurai, page 139)
It was experimental with a little forest and a medium sized ayurvedic plantation on one side; … (The Moon in the Water, by Ameena Hussein, page 59)
That ancestor, it is said, was well versed in the ancient ayurvedic texts, … (The Mirror of Paradise, by Asgar Hussein, page 66)

Besides, ayurvedic practitioners were now also arriving at the house … (The Cat’s Table, by Michael Ondaatje, page 71)
An ayurvedic masseur followed. (Questions of Travel, by Michelle de Kretser, page 224)

ayurvedic doctor/physician (= native doctor/physician, vedamahatteya, vedarala)
“Your late grandfather was a precious man – an ayurvedic physician of the highest integrity!” (Can You Hear me Running, by Lal Medawattegedara, page 48)

There was also an ayurvedic physician in the village who was a whiz at reading horoscopes, matching them for possible marriages and casting them when a child was born. (Somewhere, by Vijita Fernando, page 47)

“The vernacular teachers, Ayurvedic physicians and others are displeased about the U.N.P. paying more attention to pluralism and this thing called Ceylonese nationalism without addressing their grievances.” (Sinhala Only, by Manuka Wijesinghe, page 144)


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