Desi – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Did someone just describe an Indian person as a “Desi?” What does that mean? Is it a racist term, or can you use it in public? This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.


The expression “Desi” refers to culture, people, and items originating from the Indian subcontinent and its diaspora. If you’re using the word “Desi,” you could describe a person from India, Pakistani, or Bangladesh.

The word doesn’t refer to people with a darker or lighter skin tone, and it describes all demographics in these countries. The expression can refer to men or women, and it’s a genderless term used in Desi and western communities.

You can use the term Desi to describe food from the regions of India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. If you’re going out to an Indian restaurant for a vegetarian curry, you could say that it’s a Desi-run restaurant if it has Indian owners. Desi is not a racist term, and it’s not considered hate speech by the Desi community.

Example Usage

“Desi women are the most attractive ladies in the world. They have the most amazing features and skin tone. They are so beautiful I wish my wife was Indian.”

“Desi culture has a rich heritage in the east. They started the practice of yoga and invented so many important things throughout history.”

“Desi culture is amazing. The food alone is absolutely mind-blowing, and I could go on for days about the clothing and the music. It’s just a fascinating culture and the cradle of humankind.”

“To be a Desi, you need to understand your culture and heritage. You must embrace everything about your people and their history.”

“I love Desi people. They are so open and friendly, and they are always willing to help you out when you need a hand.”

“I have plenty of Desi people as friends. I live in an Indian neighborhood, and they are great people. It’s a safe area, and the community respects each other.”

“Never disrespect a Desi person. They are vindictive, and they will hold a grudge against you for the rest of their lives.”


The expression "Desi" originates from the Sanskrit word, "Desh." Desi compares to the Hindustani word "vilāyati" (with the English version being "Blighty"). This term originally referred to people and culture from the Central Asian region and Afghanistan.

Over the decades, the word changed to refer to Britain or Western ideologies or culture. People from India and the subcontinent began referring to themselves as "Desi." After the approval of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the US increased immigration from the Indian subcontinent.

As more students arrived in the US and UK from the subcontinent, local communities would begin to refer to them as "Desi" people. The term also refers to Indian expatriates living outside of the subcontinent in western countries.

Phrases Similar to Desi

  • Indian.
  • Pakistani.
  • Bangladeshi.

Phrases Opposite to Desi

  • Unknown.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Desi.

Ways People May Say Desi Incorrectly

Some people assume that a “Desi” refers to Indian women with a light skin tone. However, that’s not the case. A Desi is anyone with an Indian heritage. Using the term to describe Indian people alone is also incorrect.

A “Desi” can be a person with Indian, Pakistani, or Bangladeshi heritage. The phrase doesn’t have a racist connotation, so using it as a hate speech slur is also incorrect.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Desi

You can use the word “Desi” to describe anyone with Indian, Bangladeshi, or Pakistani heritage. It’s not a derogatory term, so you don’t have to worry about the woke mob coming for you for using it online. A “Desi” can describe both men and women, and people will all have different skin tones.

You could use it to describe yourself or another person, or you could use it to describe items from Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi culture, such as food, art, and clothing.

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