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coolie, n.

Pronunciation:  Brit. /ˈkuːli/ , U.S. /ˈkuli/
Forms:  16 coule, 16 cowler, 16–17 coly, 16–18 coolee, 16–18 cooley, 16– coolie, 16– cooly, 17 coolley, 17 couley, 19– koelie (South Africa). (Show Less)
Etymology:  Origin uncertain; probably specific use of Koli n. or its ultimate etymon Gujarati Koḷī (because members of this group frequently worked as labourers or performed menial tasks), probably after Portuguese cule local hired labourer in India (and later also China) (1581 as qule  ; apparently also < Gujarati Koḷī  , Kulī  ), both perhaps partly influenced by Tamil kūli hire, payment for occasional menial work (forming the first element of kūlikkāraṉ   and kuliyāḷ   hireling) or a related Dravidian word. Compare Urdu qulī   ( < Gujarati koḷī  ), perhaps influenced by the unrelated Ottoman Turkish qul   slave, subject (Turkish kul  ). In sense 1a   now in the Indian vernaculars generally: Gujarati kulī, Hindi kūlī, kulī, Bengali kuli, etc., and Tamil kūli, Telugu kūlī (as opposed to kūli hire), etc., all probably ultimately < English (or perhaps < Portuguese).
With sense 1b   compare Afrikaans koelie  , apparently < English. Compare Dutch koelie   (1642, only with reference to colonies in Asia and the Americas).
With uses referring to China (compare e.g. quot. 1745 at sense 1a) compare Chinese kŭlì, apparently < English.
In form cowler perhaps showing folk-etymological association with cowl-staff n.

 a. In India and (later also) China: a hired labourer (esp. one employed by a European); a porter (now esp. in a railway station). Hence also: an Asian labourer working abroad (now chiefly hist.).

1622   in W. Foster Eng. Factories India 1622-3 (1908) 139   They finished in two dayes and two nights, bringing with them coules for the purpose.
1638   W. Bruton Newes from E.-Indies 6   Hee lent us Horses to ride on, and Cowlers (which are Porters) to carry our goods.
1680   in J. T. Wheeler Madras in Olden Time (1861) I. 129   That the drum be beat to call all coolies, carpenters, etc.
1704   tr. P. Baldæus Descr. Ceylon in A. Churchill & J. Churchill Coll. Voy. III. 740/1,   500 Colys or Labourers.
1745   P. Thomas True Jrnl. Voy. South-Seas 271   We employ'd..many Chinese Labourers, whom they call Cooly's, to make the Chinam.
1763   R. Orme Hist. Mil. Trans. Brit. Nation I. 80   The care of his baggage made Paradis divide his men into two bodies, between which marched the Indians, called Coolies, who carried his chests.
1776   Ann. Reg. 1775 132   Made use of by the natives of Golconda as coolys or slaves in the mines.
1799   Duke of Wellington Dispatches (1837) I. 55   An order..stating the number of Coolies which an officer may call for from a village.
1826   W. Elliott Nun 100 (note) ,   Coolee means a porter, but is often used reproachfully to other servants of superior rank.
1859   J. E. Tennent Ceylon II. vii. vi. 235   The number of Malabar coolies employed.
1873   J. Morley Rousseau II. 55   A kidnapper of coolies or the captain of a slaver.
1925   W. S. Maugham Painted Veil xxviii. 101   In a straggling line came the coolies.
1971   R. Russell tr. A. Ahmad Shore & Wave vii. 58   Coolies were carrying their luggage on their backs.
1988   A. Desai Baumgartner's Bombay iv. 105   The railway station swarmed with..coolies bent under tin trunks.
2005   T. Aw Harmony Silk Factory i. i. 3   To look at, the building is unremarkable..built in the early thirties by itinerant Chinese coolies.

1622—2005(Hide quotations)


 b. offensive (chiefly derogatory). An Asian person, a person of Asian descent; spec.  (a) U.S. a Chinese person; an East Asian;  (b) S. Afr. and Caribbean an Indian; a South Asian.

1849   De Bow's Rev. Aug. 170   English Guiana..contained in 1847, but 4,000 whites, with coolies, blacks and mixed races, amounting to 94,000.
1855   F. Soulé et al. Ann. San Francisco 380   The white miner..could not pretend to compete with the..‘coolie’, as so John Chinaman was now called by many.
1873   F. Boyle To Cape for Diamonds 285   A coolie cook, clad in tunic and turban, pursues the study of his art.
1907   W. Jekyll Jamaican Song & Story 265   Me da Coolie sleep on piazza with me wrapper round me shoulder.
1920   Cape Times 1 Apr. 3/2   Great Public Sale... No coolies.
1959   L. Lerner Englishman xiv. 220   It was his girl the other one took, the one who slept with koelies.
1961   P. Marshall Soul clap Hands Sing (1962) 105   A nice coolie girl just up from the country.
1974   S. Selvon Those who eat Cascadura iv. 97   Think how all the black people must be saying that those coolies only go by the temple to pretend.
1990   J. Naidoo Coolie Location 120   ‘It's always the same with you Coolies: impossible to pick one of you up without having the entire family troop down to the police station.’.. It wasn't the observation of Indian clannishness..that struck me, it was the word ‘Coolie’, and the careless cock-sure way it was used.

1849—1990(Hide quotations)


2. slang. A person of low (social) status. Also: a soldier. Obs.

1803   R. Percival in Naval Chron. 10 31   A Cooly, or common fellow of the lowest class.
1873   Slang Dict.,   Coolie, a soldier, in allusion to the Hindoo coolies, or day labourers.

1803—1873(Hide quotations)




 C1. General attrib., appositive, and objective, as coolie boy, coolie-catcher, coolie emigrant, coolie hire, coolie labour , coolie system, coolie work, etc.

1681   Fort St. Geo. Cons. 10 Jan. in Notes & Extracts iii. 45 (Y. Supp.)   For the farme of Dustoory on cooley hire at Pagodas 20 per annum.
1711   C. Lockyer Acct. Trade India viii. 243   Hamalage, or Cooly-hire at weighing, 1 Coz of every 20 md Tabrees.
1773   Further Rep. Comm. Secrecy 222   Proposals for Cooley work, viz. filling up the earth, &c. were extravagantly high.
1818   M. M. Sherwood Stories Church Catech. (ed. 4) xxi. 145   Shall I tell the coolie boy to run after him?
1846   U.S. Mag. & Democratic Rev. Oct. 251   This is but one instance of the justice of the Cooley system.
1863   H. Fawcett Man. Polit. Econ. i. viii. 108   Coolie-traffic can never be carried on by private enterprise.
1865   Daily Tel. 24 Oct. 4/6   A ship..started from Calcutta with four hundred coolie emigrants.
1879   Constit. Calif. in J. Bryce Amer. Commonw. (1888) II. App. 678   Asiatic coolieism is a form of human slavery, and is for ever prohibited in this State, and all contracts for coolie labour shall be void.
1890   Times (Weekly ed.) 21 Feb. 10/4   The Chinese agents employed to collect the coolies, and known as ‘coolie-catchers’.
1960   W. P. Morgan Triad Societies in Hong Kong iv. 63   In 1886, a riot broke out in the Western district of Hong Kong arising from extortions practiced in the coolie trade.
1992   L. Scott Witchbroom (1993) ii. 173,   I take the flowers Madam send. She must have get the little coolie boy, Ram, Madoo son, to pick them before sun-up.

1681—1992(Hide quotations)


  Coolie Christmas   n. S. Afr. colloq. (offensive) (now rare) the Islamic festival of Muharram, or the Hindu festival of Diwali, as observed by people of South Asian origin.

1896   Pall Mall Gaz. 17 Jan. 3/1   If the reader can form a composite mental photograph of a village wedding, a Punch-and-Judy show, and an open-air revivalist meeting of any popular English seaside resort, he will have a fair idea of the crowning ceremony of a ‘Coolie Christmas’.
1905   East London Daily Dispatch (S. Afr.) 18 Mar.,   The festivities in connexion with the Hindoo's festival Mohurrum known locally as the Coolie Christmas, commences to-night.
1967   E. Rosenthal Encycl. Southern Afr. 125   Coolie Christmas, old-fashioned name applied in Natal to Muharram..and..Diwali.

1896—1967(Hide quotations)


  coolie hat   n. a broad conical hat similar to those worn in some East Asian countries by labourers.

1856   S. W. Williams Tonic Dict. Chinese Lang. in Canton Dial. 296/2   A bamboo coolie-hat.
1896   Cent. Mag. Apr. 938/1   An old coolie hat is put on a dried melon for the head [of a scarecrow].
1937   J. Laver Taste & Fashion x. 158   In 1935 there was a vogue for flat hats with rather wide brims, Chinese ‘coolie’ hats, and similar shapes.
2001   Vogue Apr. 218/1   The collection is peppered with late fifties Dior-isms: pencil skirts and coolie hats,..and strapless ball gowns with matching opera coats.

1856—2001(Hide quotations)


  coolie line   n. now chiefly hist. a row of houses or huts built as accommodation for coolies or labourers; freq. in pl.; cf. line n.2 20a.

1851   Hooker's Jrnl. Bot. 3 6   In some of the estates that I have visited, the disease has first been noticed near the Coolie lines.
1939   R. Godden Black Narcissus xxix. 263   The news spread to the village and the coolie lines.
2000   A. Ghosh Glass Palace (2001) xviii. 228   Suddenly the trees ended and a small shantytown appeared, with rows of shacks lining the road... ‘The coolie lines,’ said Alison, slowing briefly.

1851—2000(Hide quotations)


  coolie orange   n. now rare the sweet orange, Citrus sinensis, thought to originate in China.The orange was formerly considered to be a variety of C. aurantium.

1849   Let. 14 Dec. in Rep. Commisioner Patents 1849 (U.S. Senate) (1850) ii. 466   Coolie Orange (citrus aurantium).
1863   J. Summers Handbk. of Chinese Lang. ii. 85,   I am very fond of eating peaches, small oranges, or large thin-skinned oranges or coolie oranges.
1929   Jrnl. Heredity 20 37/2   The Canton orange, or true sweet orange, is distinguished by the name Cheng, or ‘Coolie orange’.

1849—1929(Hide quotations)