Her indoors

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Thu Nov 5 06:13:30 UTC 2009

I see the OED Wordhunt shows "her indoors" = "[my] wife" etc. First
citation: 1979. Supposedly an expression adopted from a taxi driver ....

I have never heard this "her indoors" myself, but my first thought is
that it looks like a calque from Chinese. I suppose it's old-fashioned
now, but a conventional Chinese expression meaning "my wife" is "nei
ren", which I would gloss syllable-for-syllable "inside person", close
enough to "her indoors" since it would only apply to a woman and since
(I think) it is generally reckoned that the "nei" here means "inside the
house/home". Note that it's "my wife", not just "[some] wife".

Similarly, Japanese "kanai" means "my wife". I think the kanji can be
glossed "house-inside".

Of course I'm not the first to notice the parallel: e.g., one can see
the English and Japanese terms opposed by Googling <<"her indoors" kanai>>.

Apparently (no surprise) there are Korean equivalents too.

Maybe this expression came from Chinese-influenced English (e.g., that
of Singapore)? Or from a cabby from (say) Taiwan? Or one who's studied
Chinese or Japanese? Or maybe it's a calque from some other language, of
(say) India? Given the late date of "her indoors", I doubt parallel
evolution in English.

-- Doug Wilson

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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