Phrase Origins – A1 and Bangalore Torpedo


My research into the caste system is taking longer than planned. It may take another week or two before my history series resumes. Meanwhile, i thought i will write on some lighter topics.

Phrase Origins

I have always been interested in phrase origins because most often there is a very interesting story behind these phrases. In the past we have covered – To fight like Kilkenny Cats , Drinking the Kool Aid and the Red Carpet treatment. Ganesh had pointed to this site word detective a while ago.

Bangalore Torpedo

Recently I came across this phrase “Bangalore Torpedo” from a client. If you think about it, it is an unlikely combination of words because Bangalore is a land locked place and Torpedo is a naval weapon.

Well, it turns out that a british military officer by the name Captain McClintock invented the Bangalore Torpedo while he was stationed in Bangalore. And the weapon is used till date to destroy land mines from a distance without having to go near the land mine.


This one has been ringing in my ears for a while now. A1 is used heavily in Chennai. If you served someone a cup of coffee and asked them later how the cuppa was, they would immediately say “The coffee was A1”. In general, whenever you want to say something is nice, you say it is A1 in Chennai. Not sure if this phrase is used elsewhere in India? Maybe the readers can comment.

Again, when you think about this, A by itself stands for A class and 1 stands for No.1. The question is, why use both A and 1 together? Is it just a tautology or is there something more to it?

Well, my research didn’t lead me anywhere. Then i asked Priya Raju to help and she came up with this A1 from the Wikipedia and this one. A1 seems to be a designation given to a ship of high quality construction and high quality material. Given that Chennai is a port and both the British and Indian Navy had/have operations here, this seems like the most likely origin for this phrase. Interesting, isn’t it?


Are there other phrases that pique your curiosity? Would love to hear.


  1. Quote
    Subba Muthurangan said May 11, 2008, 12:16 pm:


    I still remember that we had a dedicated chapter for this words in 6th or 7th grade state board tamil book. One interesting word is ‘OC’ and it was derived from British accounting where they declare some unwarranted cost as “Other’s Cost”, still all over Tamil Nadu we use OC for free of cost.

    I don’t know the origin of ‘OB'( overa OB adikiran), that is something new but used widely in office environment.

  2. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said May 12, 2008, 9:37 am:

    Thanks Subba. Interesting origin for OC. I didn’t know that. As for OB – could it be other’s business? Instead of the regular business, the person works for Other Business. Does that make sense?

  3. Quote

    Good post Sukumar.

    Interesting find by Priya about A1. A column in the Hindu newspaper titled “Know Your English” used to give some phrases in English and their origins. I used to enjoy reading it!

    I dint know the origin of OC either!

  4. Quote

    Interesting post Sukumar. Will “Gandhi Account” meet this requirement? I came across this phrase in the context that if I spend some money from Gandhi account it means it doesnt need to be paid back.

    In our college, we used to use one phrase ABVP. It is not the student organization. In Telugu, it means “Avari Billu Valla Purse nunchi” English meaning as you must have guessed “pay your bill from your own purse” (Purse is used instead of wallet in our land). It is same as

  5. Quote

    Contd from the above comment…

    Dutch Party/ Dutch Treat

  6. Quote
    Sujatha said May 12, 2008, 10:39 pm:

    Good Post Sukumar.

    I think i read it some where OB originated from “Out of Business” – closed the business and have no work to do.

  7. Quote
    Sujatha said May 12, 2008, 10:43 pm:

    One more “Tube Light” – people who are dumb, similar to the tube light which flicks couple of times before switching on.

  8. Quote
    pk.karthik said May 12, 2008, 11:09 pm:

    My 2 cents on Gandhi Kanaku
    Before 1947, when India was fighting against British occupation, companies and individuals often included “Contribution to Freedom movement” as an item in accounting statements. Most often accounting statements would not tally because management funneled money out. “Contribution to Gandhi’s freedom movement” provided an excellent means to account for the “missing” money. Hence the term “Gandhi Kanakku.

  9. Quote
    pk.karthik said May 12, 2008, 11:11 pm:

    OC is a shortform of On Company Service …when the employee was allowed to travel free of cost….so it was missused hence the orgin of the term…

  10. Quote

    Interesting Post!

    Dint know about the origin of OC too ( Over used it though 😉 )

  11. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said May 13, 2008, 9:01 am:

    Thanks Saraswathi. I used to read the “Know your english” column as well. It is pretty good.

  12. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said May 13, 2008, 9:04 am:

    Thanks. Karthik i think has given you a great response for “Gandhi Account” or “Gandhi Kanakku”. Although i had heard the phrase, i didn’t know the origin. Thanks Karthik. Very interesting. Karthik, is there any citation for this?

    We also have a similar ABVP type thing in Tamil – avan avan bill avan avanukku – loosely translated to “that that man that that bill”.
    Yeah, i guess it is called going dutch in English.

  13. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said May 13, 2008, 9:05 am:

    Thanks Sujatha. OB is Out of Business is it? Do you have a citation?

    Yes Tubelight is a good one.

  14. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said May 13, 2008, 9:07 am:

    OC = On Company Service. How interesting? Do you have a citation? It does make sense, but it will be good if we can find some proof.

    Related to Gandhi Kanakku – we had a “Gandhi Shot” in carrom and cricket meaning the striker or the bat didn’t touch the coin or the ball! – non-violent shot so to speak!

    Thanks Jass.

  15. Quote

    Karthik, Gandhi Kanaku’s origin is very interesting. ABVP was interesting in our college days because ABVP and another party SFI used to be very prominent in our college (and always fighting over silly issues). When we go canteen, we used to tease SFI supporters is ABVP OK? If they say Yes, then we will say that they support ABVP. If they say no, then they have to pay for the table. 🙂

  16. Quote
    pk.karthik said May 13, 2008, 10:50 am:

    Thanks Sukumar and Vamsi…

    But very diffiult for citation…I remeber reading this in Hindu a long time back….will try to find the source..I guess can try mailing Mr AC Muthiah …..

    I came across similar entires in Wikipedia….
    As for OCS …I can give shot at the etmyology thgh…OCS account is still used in Railway Budget for Railways passes etc…So i guess that could be the orgin…

    I came across another interesting entry in Wiki…for KD(as in accused)…it says it stands for known deliquent….

  17. Quote

    While reading A1, i got remembered some tanglish phrase like “Nadu Center” ..

  18. Quote
    Sujatha said May 13, 2008, 8:24 pm:


    Check out the tanglish(chennai tamil) link at Wiki: – it has most of the words like OC,OB etc.

  19. Quote

    Very interesting Sukumar. I have also been intrigued by the origin of phrases. I have heard this story about the phrase “Thinking out of the box”.

    In the initial days of soap manufacturing, soaps were placed in cardboard boxes and dispatched to their retail outlets. It turned out that many empty boxes were delivered to retailers much to their displeasure. The manufacturers tried to solve this problem and could not come up with an effective solution. One of the shop floor workers came up with an idea. He placed a table fan facing the conveyor. All the empty boxes flew out leaving only the boxes that had soap on the conveyor. That is the origin of the phrase “thinking out of the box”

  20. Quote
    Subba Muthurangan said May 14, 2008, 12:05 am:

    There is lot of confusion around OC’s origin, but I think that here is final origin with proof. I’m half right because it originated from British 🙂

    “Letters posted on behalf of the East India Company did not bear postage stamps, but had the words `On Company’s Service’ or `OC’ written on them. In course of time `OC’ in Madras slang came to mean `free.’ ” (There are lot of interested words with origin in this article)

  21. Quote
    Karthik.Pk said May 14, 2008, 12:14 am:

    Bingo Subba..This was the article I was looking for !!!!!

  22. Quote
    Sujatha said May 14, 2008, 6:30 am:

    I think OC is definitely – On company service, i remember having a chapter in my grade school thamizh book about some of the tamizh words with either English Origin or transformed from other words. Some of the words i remember listed are

    1. OC – On company service
    2. OB- Out of business
    3. Orgininally Hamilton bridge – transformed to Ambattam bridge in tamizh, then became Barber’s bridge in English
    4. Nadu Center(mixed english and tamizh),
    5. காது குத்துதல்( fooling someone without their knowledge)
    6. How ஒப்பிலியப்பன் became உப்பிலியப்பன் temple and people started giving prasad with no salt.

    I read all these way too early in grade school so i don’t remember much.

  23. Quote
    Sujatha said May 14, 2008, 6:32 am:

    Think out of the box – i have never heard of the story. Thanks for sharing Archana.

  24. Quote
    Karthik.Pk said May 14, 2008, 7:46 am:

    OB could also mean Off beat for cops off dute..

  25. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said May 14, 2008, 7:53 am:

    Thanks. Sujatha, has found the wikipedia link on Tanglish. Good one Sujatha.

    thanks. looks like Subba found the citation. Sujatha also has recollected from grade school the same definition. Thanks Subba and Sujatha.

    That KD thing you pointed out is very interesting. i would have never guessed that one.

  26. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said May 14, 2008, 7:57 am:

    Hamilton Bridge=Amtan Varavati=Barber’s Bridge is a great example of how words from different languages get mixed up. Good one. The other examples you quote are also quite interesting. Thanks.

    thanks. Is there a citation for this out of the box story? It is a great one. I think you wrote this as a comment on my innovation post in ch1blogs. Thanks for sharing.

    OB=out of business seems like the most likely one.

  27. Quote
    pk.karthik said May 14, 2008, 1:13 pm:

    I agree Sukumar….But if u notice..OB is always followed by the verb adikarthu so i speculated this possiblity too..

  28. Quote

    Thanks Sukumar. I don’t remember posting this before, my apologies. I do not have any citation. I read it a long time ago and I don’t remember where. I will try to locate it.

  29. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said May 15, 2008, 7:39 am:

    Yes Karthik. We don’t seem to have a proper citation for OB. So i guess you could be right.

    Thanks. No need to apologize. I just recalled your comment from ch1blogs. that is all. I did a search on google and couldn’t come up with a citation for the soap box story. Definitely a brilliant one to illustrate out of the box thinking.

  30. Quote
    Sujatha said May 15, 2008, 10:45 am:

    I found another definition of OB which sounds good, in a Singlish(Singapore English) dictionary site :

    OB – Off beat or Obiang

    Offbeat Cha- cha -[< Eng. cha-cha a type of ballroom dance to Latin-American rhythm] :Off-beat and abbrev. to OB. unfashionable. Obiang replaced the 1960s off-beat cha-cha, which was shortened to off-beat in the 70s, and then simply o.b. in the 80s.

    obiang: [origin could be Hk]: zig-zag, sticking out this way and that,Out of fashion; in a bad or dubious style or taste, esp. ostentatiously.

  31. Quote

    Good find Sujatha. Not sure our OB and the Singlish OB are related due to the etymology provided by you and the Singlish site you pointed to? What do the others think?

  32. Quote

    Any idea about “peter”, “loose”, “Madras eye”?

  33. Quote


    I still remember that we had a dedicated chapter for this words in 6th or 7th grade state board tamil book. One interesting word is ‘OC’ and it was derived from British accounting where they declare some unwarranted cost as “Other’s Cost”, still all over Tamil Nadu we use OC for free of cost.

    I don’t know the origin of ‘OB’( overa OB adikiran), that is something new but used widely in office environment.

    It is not OB, it is OP. Meaning – On Other’s pay. on Other’s paying of salary, one wastes his work time, work place.

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