Is '-wallah' (as in chai-wallah) in any sense an offensive word?
February 19, 2014 5:41 PM Subscribe
Let's say you've been having a lot of conversations about finding a way to get certain isolated or repetitive tasks done. Some things can be handled by automation, so they get a '-bot'; others get done by a human, so they get a '-wallah'. But is there some manner in which '-wallah' could be taken to be derogatory, offensive, appropriation, insensitive, etc?
posted by bartleby to Writing & Language (53 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm taking this term from how (as far as I understand) it's used in India, where it's the term for an individual that specializes in a certain task. The street vendor who sells tea on your corner with panache and a song is your local chai-wallah; someone who collects your dirty clothes, takes them away and brings them back cleaned is a dhobi (laundry)-wallah.
So it's sort of a similar usage to '-guy' or 'lady'; "Wow, your lawn guy does a great job" or "I've got too much work on my desk to go out for food right now, I'll just wait for the tea lady to come by with her cart later".
The opposite, where you've replaced a person with a machine, would be a -bot.
Many jobs were lost in the auto industry when the skilled humans that used to do the body welds were replaced with robots to do the same job; in with the weld-bots, out with the weld-wallahs.
OK, people, we need to figure out the situation with snacks in the breakroom. Do we put in a vending machine, or can we get a volunteer to keep the fridge stocked? Or in other words, do we want a snack-bot, or does someone want to be snack-wallah?
Outfits like TaskRabbit or Mechanical Turk are basically hire-a-wallah.
I had too much system administration grunt work to do, but they wouldn't hire a 2nd person; so I wrote a bunch of scripts and now it's being done by a bot.
Is using the term this way a bad thing?