As a South Asian, I've long heard that the English word "loot" comes directly from the Hindi word lūṭ, meaning to steal or plunder, and was coined as a result of the East India Company's siphoning of huge amounts of wealth and resources from the British Raj (including modern-day Pakistan and Bangladesh).

Is this origin of the word loot correct, and what's the earliest use of the word in this context?

  • 1
    Have you looked here? etymonline.com/word/loot Jun 9, 2020 at 17:37
  • 1
    There's a lot more detail about the etymology here. But that was really easy to find by googling loot etymology, so I think this question didn't need to be asked here. Jun 9, 2020 at 17:39
  • Yes, I found both of those. Online sources are either too vague or written for etymologists, and from what I can understand tell me nothing about the first usage(s).
    – Prometheus
    Jun 9, 2020 at 17:52

2 Answers 2


The OED suggests that you are correct, in the etymology:

loot [lu:t], sb.2
[after Hindi lu:t, according to some scholars representing Sanskrit lo:tra, lo:ptra booty, spoil, from the root lup = rup to break; others refer it to lunt to rob.]

  1. Goods (esp. articles of considerable value) taken from an enemy, a captured city, etc. in time of war; also, in wider sense, something taken by force or with violence; booty, plunder, spoil; now sometimes transf., illicit gains, `pillage' (e.g. by a public servant). Also, the action or process of looting.

And in the fact that the earliest citation is from after the period in which England started to engage in India militarily:

  • 1788 Indian Vocab. (Y.), Loot, plunder, pillage.
  • 1839 Blackw. Mag. XLV. 104 He always found the talismanic gathering-word Loot (plunder), a sufficient bond of union in any part of India.
  • 1858-9 Russell Diary India (1860) II. xvii. 340 Why, the race [of camp followers] is suckled on loot, fed on theft, swaddled in plunder, and weaned on robbery.
  • 1860 Hook Lives Abps. (1862) II. vii. 505 The horses in the archbishop's stables the murderers appropriated as their own fee,-or, as we should now say, as loot.
  • 1876 Blackw. Mag. CXIX. 115/1 Public servants [in Turkey] have vied with one another in a system of universal loot.

and was coined as a result of the British Raj's siphoning of huge amounts of wealth and resources from British-occupied India (including modern-day Pakistan and Bangladesh).

As the word was not "coined", but taken from the Hindi, the implication is that the population of the Subcontinent were already adept at "looting" from each other during the time prior to the Raj (1858). You may wish to refer to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pindari

"The siphoning of huge amounts of wealth and resources" was basically the business model of the East India Company, not the Raj. You will be aware that local rulers were complicit in this.

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    This is not really an answer to the question, but in any case: 1) The Hindi word lūṭ simply means to steal or plunder - yes, the concept of stealing was known to Indians, but the few tens of thousands of primitive Pindaris were not capable of plundering the sheer amount of wealth that the EIC systematised, nor did their plundered wealth leave India. 2) You're right that it was technically the EIC, not the British Raj, and I've amended the question, but the distinction between the two was not as well-demarcated as you seem to think. See, for example, how the Koh-i-Nur came to be a Crown Jewel.
    – Prometheus
    Jun 9, 2020 at 22:05
  • This article by historian William Dalrymple, who's published several books on the subject, covers both points. Have a read.
    – Prometheus
    Jun 9, 2020 at 22:06
  • Thanks. I'll just add the etymological note that Dalrymple's article starts with One of the very first Indian words to enter the English language was the Hindustani slang for plunder: “loot” The OED records 827 such words prior to "loot" and 522 between then and 1950. It may give some idea of Dalrymple's approach.
    – Greybeard
    Jun 10, 2020 at 0:12

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