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coolie

[koo-lee] /ˈku li/
noun, Disparaging and Offensive.
1.
an unskilled laborer, especially formerly in China and India.
2.
an unskilled laborer employed cheaply, especially one brought from Asia.
3.
a contemptuous term used to refer to an Asian, especially an Indian living in South Africa.
adjective
4.
Informal. characteristic of or suitable for a coolie:
working for coolie wages.
Also, cooly.
Origin
1545-1555
1545-55; < Urdu kūlī < Tamil kūli hire, hireling
Usage note
Both meanings of “unskilled Asian laborer” are found almost exclusively in historical contexts, suggesting imperialistic exploitation of these workers. But coolie is still current as an insulting term used to refer to a person of Asian descent, especially in South Africa.
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Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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British Dictionary definitions for coolie

coolie

/ˈkuːlɪ/
noun (pl) -ies
1.
a cheaply hired unskilled Oriental labourer
2.
(derogatory) an Indian living in South Africa
Word Origin
C17: from Hindi kulī, probably of Dravidian origin; related to Tamil kūli hire, hireling
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for coolie
n.

name given by Europeans to hired laborers in India and China, c.1600, from Hindi quli "hired servant," probably from kuli, name of an aboriginal tribe or caste in Gujarat. The name was picked up by the Portuguese, who used it in southern India (where by coincidence kuli in Tamil meant "hire") and in China.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Encyclopedia Article for coolie

(from Hindi Kuli, an aboriginal tribal name, or from Tamil kuli, "wages"), in usually pejorative European usage, an unskilled labourer or porter usually in or from the Far East hired for low or subsistence wages

Learn more about coolie with a free trial on Britannica.com
Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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