I had been wondering about a non-native word in Tamil: Thabal, meaning post. This word has origins from elsewhere, and I had not been able to figure out the etymology. Searches in Internet had also proved futile.

Meanwhile I came across this article in the newspaper yesterday, which talks about the story of the General Post Office in Chennai. It seems a certain English gentleman by name John Burlton wrote to the government seeking establishment of Tapall facility in Chennai (called Madras back then).

In a letter that Burlton sent to the Government, he said, “The proposal which I some time delivered to Lord Macartney which I now have the honour to send to you is to establish a regular Tapall (mail), upon a plan similar to that at Bengal which will exclude the company’s servants from the privilege of receiving their letters free of postage.”

Another sentence also employs tappies:

The government replied, “Having taken into consideration the establishing of a regular P.O. we directed our accountant to prepare a statement of monthly charges of the ‘Tappies’ (Tapal) in Carnatic and Nothern Circars.”

Was there any similar word for post/letter in the 18th century English, which has fallen out of usage since? Or has this word been borrowed from neighbouring states (the French or Dutch provinces)?

1 Answer 1


Hobson-Jobson says

TAPPAUL , s. The word used in S. India for 'post,' in all the senses in which dawk (q.v.) is used in Northern India. Its origin is obscure. C. P. Brown suggests connection with the Fr. étape (which is the same originally as the Eng. staple). It is sometimes found in the end of the 18th century written tappa or tappy. But this seems to have been derived from Telugu clerks, who sometimes write tappā as a singular of tappālu, taking the latter for a plural (C.P.B.). Wilson appears to give the word a southern origin. But though its use is confined to the South and West, Mr. Beames assigns to it an Aryan origin: "ṭappā 'post-office,' i.e. place where letters are stamped, ṭappāl 'letter-post' (ṭappā + alya = 'stamping-house')," connecting it radically with ṭāpā 'a coop,' ṭāpnā 'to tap,' 'flatten,' 'beat down,' ṭapak 'a sledge hammer,' ṭīpnā 'to press,' &c. [with which Platts agrees.]

1799 -- "You will perceive that we have but a small chance of establishing the tappal to Poonah." -- Wellington, i. 50.

1800 -- "The Tappal does not go 30 miles a day." -- T. Munro, in Life, i. 244.

1809 -- "Requiring only two sets of bearers I knew I might go by tappaul the whole way to Seringapatam." -- Ld. Valentia, i. 385.

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