I was wondering what the etymology of Juggernaut is. I think it is derived from an Indian Language.

Would you be able to describe:

  • Which language this word is from
  • The root from which this word originated
  • The significance of relevant historical, social or political factors in adapting this word to English. (alternative interpretations from the one given below)

Here's some info I found: (from: Merriam-Webster)

In the early 14th century, Franciscan missionary Friar Odoric brought to Europe the story of an enormous carriage that carried an image of the Hindu god Vishnu (whose title was Jagannath, literally, "lord of the world") through the streets of India in religious processions. Odoric reported that some worshippers deliberately allowed themselves to be crushed beneath the vehicle's wheels as a sacrifice to Vishnu. That story was probably an exaggeration or misinterpretation of actual events, but it spread throughout Europe anyway. The tale caught the imagination of English listeners, and by the 19th century, they were using juggernaut to refer to any massive vehicle (such as a steam locomotive) or to any other enormous entity with powerful crushing capabilities.

Also, the meanings associated with Juggernaut include:

1 - a massive inexorable force, campaign, movement, or object that crushes whatever is in its path

2 - a large heavy truck

What gave rise to these two, different connotations? (A truck seems puny in comparison to the former definition)



1 Answer 1


It sounds like you have almost all the information there.

The -nath ending almost certainly turned into -naut due to a false association with the Greek word for a sailor, as in Argonaut (sailor of the Argo), astronaut (sailor of the stars), etc.

There aren't really two different connotations to the word; as your post indicates, the term was originally applied to any large, heavy vehicle, emphasizing unstoppability and a likeliness to crush everything in its path. Later, that usage was extended to things that are more metaphorically huge and unstoppable, like an army campaign or a pervasive idea.

  • As I understand it the pronunciation of the "-nath" ending would be very similar to "-naut" as the Indian sound transliterated as "th" is a detached "t'-ha" rather than the blended English "th". The difference between "Jagganath" to "Juggernaut" would have been almost inperceptible.
    – BoldBen
    Jan 26, 2019 at 4:23

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