Disclaimer: Though this post is written in English, it is actually about semantics of words in Tamil. If you don’t know Tamil really well, you won’t find this interesting.

There are two words in English that have entirely different meanings and used as such. But translated into Tamil, these words cause much room for confusion and amount of gross misuse of language.

The word Extremist translated in Tamil is தீவிரவாதி. It means, in both languages the same, that you feel so strongly about something, with or without rationale. I could be an extremist about an ideology and show that in my thoughts, actions and words.

The word Terrorist translated is பயங்கரவாதி. It basically refers to people who inflict damage on others, again with or without rationale (there can be no rationale, in this case)

In English, you would exactly know when to use which word. In Tamil, these words are so interchangeably used, especially in media and movies — that they use the word extremist, when they refer to terrorists. Terrorists may have extreme ideas (hence extremists also), but not all extremists are terrorists. I mean I am an extremist on ice creams, but does that mean I am about to inflict damage on others by wearing a variety on ice-creams on my body?

I quote Ayn Rand, “Observe, in politics, it doesn’t matter what you are extremist about, it is just bad enough that you are extreme”. In Tamil, it seems, being extreme is bad enough for you to be branded a terrorist.

Will this change?

PS: I was deliberating whether this is worth a post. Then I asked my wife naively the Tamil word for terrorist. She picked, as I thought she might, the wrong one.