When I was a kid, the word "purdah" was regularly used in the UK metaphorically to mean a (usually voluntary) screening or separation. For example, the chancellor had a period of pre-budget purdah.

Given its original context, is this still considered appropriate in professional contexts in the UK?

  • 1
    Purdah is the pre-election period in the United Kingdom, specifically the time between an announced election and the final election results. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purdah_(pre-election_period). Purdah: A state of seclusion or secrecy: the supermarket’s own self-imposed purdah on the GM issue. oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/purdah
    – user66974
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 13:15
  • Huh, I've never heard of purdah, though I knew of the practice (though it is more widespread than the Islamic world: the Jews do it, as well as some more obscure or historical sects of Christianity. I'm thinking particularly of the Cagot who had to use a separate entrance and seating section in church).
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 13:16
  • It is certainly still in common usage for any period of separation.
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 13:37
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    @Chenmunka In BrE, it seems like it. As a native speaker of AmE, I have never encountered the word before.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 14:19
  • 2
    @DanBron Purdah is a social practice of some Islamic and Hindu societies. It is the segregation of women from public life, and in extreme forms from all public sight. Jews do not practice purdah. Orthodox sects separate men and women during worship, and by custom, women do not touch men they're not related to (e.g., they don't shake hands). But this is hardly purdah.
    – deadrat
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 2:59

1 Answer 1


I've heard it before; it was meant to convey secrecy and did not actually refer to any cultural practice.

The British empire with its colonies spread over the South Asian/South East Asian subcontinent encouraged the import of quite a few Persian/Indian loan words into Brit English and these were once pretty widespread in popular usage. 'Have a dekko', 'good ol' Blighty', bungalow, dhow, dinghy, verandah, mufti, dacoit, chitty, juggernaut, pukka, pundit along with the more familiar curry, vindaloo, balti, cashmere, pyjama, chutney, typhoon, thug, karma :) .

We seem to have purged some of the more exotic ones out of our regular vocabulary. Not many people would recognize some old loan-words in their original context any more, especially this one. Worse yet, it would be very easy to misinterpret the usage and the sentence would end up giving out unintentional negative vibes. It really wouldn't be considered too appropriate in a professional setting imho but it depends on where you're planning to use the term.

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