Recently, a catalogue of a big online selling company, attracted my attention to an item ‘Tote bags’ (Ladies hand-bags) while checking my Inbox. It surprised me and enkindled my memory of ‘Totte’ in Tulu and Kannada languages. It provoked me to explore these words and their origin. Here it goes!
In English (both British & American), ‘tote’ (pronounced as ‘toht or taut’) means :(1) to carry as on one’s back or in one’s arms (e.g.: to tote a bundle), (2) to carry on one’s person (e.g: to tote a gun) and (3) to transport or convey as on a vehicle or boat. As a Noun, it also means: ‘an act of toting and something toted. So, ’tote’ denotes carrying, bearing and carting.
‘Tote’ is also a shortened form of ‘a totalizator’. It is recorded since 1890-95 (Source: Dictinary.com, based on ‘Random House Dictionary’).
Online Etymology Dictionary (© 210 Douglas Harper) gives the original history for ‘tote’ as below:
“ …. ‘to carry’, 1670s, of unknown origin, originally attested in Virginia, but OED discounts the popular theory of its origin in a W. African language (cf. Kikongo tota ‘pick up’, Kimbundu tuta ‘carry, load’, related to Swahili ‘tuta’ pile up, carry’). Related: Toted – toting. Tote bag is first recorded in 1900.”
The word ‘toTTe’ ( t pronounced as ‘third’ and T as in English word 'tata ' and 'e' as in 'eddy') is vogue in both Tulu and Kannada. We find its variations in other Dravidian languages and also African languages, as explained in starting paras. Originally, it is a basket or bag made of coconut leaves, mundevu (Pandanus utilis) and other broad ribbon- like leaves of some trees and shrubs.
I reflectively remember the days holding a ‘totte’ of coconut leaves, when I followed my father or eldest brother to Kandevu, holding a ‘totte’, during community fishing in the tributary of River Nandini (Pavanje River) – in May months (Read our Post-292: Fishing Ritual at Kandevu).
Let us study the word and its variants in Tulu & Kannada and other Dravidian languages.
Tulu & Kannada:
Basket made of coconut leaves or bag of paper. On evolution, it is made of plastic as small containers for liquids, such as milk, curd, butter-milk, country liquor (ಸಾರಾಯಿ Saraayi) or any small solid things.
‘Nesara Totte’ (ನೇಸರ ತೊಟ್ಟೆ) means a ‘Solar cell’.
Tulu ‘totte’ = tatti, i.e. beehive, honeycomb or bee’s empty cell, Kannada: Jenu totte (= beehive),
Tottu = Nipple of a breast (both in Tulu and Kannada) or joint of flowers and fruits in tree branches.
Tulu ‘totte’ also means: ‘empty’. It is empty before filling.
‘ನಿನನು ನಂಬುನ್ಡ ಬಂಜಿಗ್ ತೊಟ್ಟೆನೆ’ (Ninanu nambunda banjig tottene). Meaning: “If we believe in you, our stomach will be empty.” Derived meaning is: “We will be losers.” It is a statement of lack of faith or confidence on the ability of a companion.
Kannada ‘Totti” = Water tank.
Tamil: Totaiyal = honeycomb.
Telugu: Tettiya = honeycomb.
(Refer ‘Tulu Lexicon’ and ‘Dravidian Etymological Dictionary, page 307, Entry: 3489 & 3490)’
Totte to Tote?
The origin of ‘tote’ is uncertain as we gather from the information given above. What is the origin then? We firmly believe that it is a Dravidian word. We can trace it to the ancient maritime (traditional) trade with South Indian coasts by the Arab World and European countries. So, the word ‘totte’ has travelled to West Asia and other Continental countries through trade route and is shaped to ‘tote’ with the meanings in present-day English language.
Totte-making from traditional and unharmful items (say, leaves, rattan, cloth or paper) has evolved and now almost all the carry-bags are made of plastics and aluminum foils. Though it looks innoxious or innocuous, it has deleterious effects on environment and human health. We can add diapers also to ‘Totte’ category. Burning of plastic carry bags and diapers emits obnoxious gases and irritating smell, thus polluting the air and the earth and harming human health. Measures are taken by almost all countries to get rid of the menace of plastic ‘tottes’ or carry bags but they are not effective.
We lay emphasis on influence of Dravidian languages, especially Tulu and Kannada, on the origin of word ‘Tote’ in English. Linguists may make a note of it.
Garbage of plastic bags are spread on roads, rivers, trees, mountains and pilgrimage places. Let us resolve not to use plastic carry bags indiscriminately.
- Hosabettu Vishwanath, Pune