The E-Sylum:  Volume 6, Number 8, February 23, 2003, Article 5


  Bob Fritsch writes: "Chits were in nearly daily use in the Navy
  throughout my long career.  On the monetary side, we had
  pay chits so we could get paid every couple of weeks.  It was
  basically a voucher where the payee would fill in name, rank,
  serial number, and pay amount (read from a large list posted
  outside the disbursing office.)  Cash was paid out and any
  foreign exchange, depending on where we were at any given
  time, was done at the same time.

  Chits were also important for gaining permission to do
  something out of the daily routine.  Leave chits were most
  important for a sailor to get permission to go on leave and to
  have official documentation that he was in a leave status.
  Special request chits were used to gain myriad permissions,
  from reenlistment to getting off watch to getting married
  (yes, you had to get the Navy's permission to do that also!).
  These chits needed signatures from the entire chain of
  command, including supervisor, division chief, division officer,
  department head, and in many cases, executive officer and
  commanding officer.

  Supply chits were used to draw material from the supply
  system.  It was a fairly complicated process that entailed
  signatures from a person usually reluctant to spend the money
  even if the need was evident.  It would then go into the vast
  supply system where the requisitioned item would appear
  in the indeterminent future.

  These were the major types of chits I can remember, but I
  am sure there were many more."

  Bill Spengler writes: "As an old "South Asia hand" (seven
  years with the Foreign Service in Pakistan and many in and
  out of India) I have greatly enjoyed the discussion of the
  origin and meaning of the Anglo-Indian term "chit".  Permit
  me to add my own perspective on this common little term
  which originated in the Subcontinent in a slightly different
  form, was abbreviated and adapted by colonial visitors,
  and brought back to the homeland to enter the English
  language like so many other Indian words (of which
  thousands are listed in Webster):

  Mike Metras' experience with "chits" in Eritrea testifies to
  how far the term has traveled from India via the military.
  Ron Haller-Williams has provided interesting etymology
  and practical definitions of the word but only from
  secondary, English language sources.  Here is what the
  vernaculars say (vernaculars in the plural because the term is
  common to Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi and a host of other South
  Asian tongues though, as Ron notes, it can be traced back
  to Sanskrit.)

  My dictionary of the Hindi language (Bhargava's "Standard
  Illustrated Dictionary", Banaras 1946), with words rendered in
  the Devanagari script, records "chit" only as a feminine noun
  meaning "the soul, intuition, knowledge of God" -- but as
  "chiT" (with a terminal retroflex "t" formed by flipping the
  tongue from the rear of the roof of the mouth forward) it is a
  different noun connoting "a rag, a scrap, a chit (of paper), a
  slip, a note".  How's that for defining something in terms of
  itself!  The latter, however, is only an abbreviation for, even
  a slang version of, the standard word "chiTTHI" (with a
  double retroflex "t" and "th" followed by a long "i") defined
  as "a note, letter, favour, bilet, document, an order".  This,
  then, is unquestionably the root from which "chit" is derived.

  As for Urdu, according to John T. Platts' "A Dictionary of
  Urdu, Classical Hindi and English", OUP London 1974, the
  word "chit" in Perso-Arabic script (with a dot below the "t"
  to indicate retroflex) translates "a bit, piece, chip; a scrap, a
  rag", much as in Hindi. But Urdu's "chitthI" (with two retroflex
  "t's"), defined as "a letter, a note; a certificate, testimonial; a
  note of hand, promissory note, bill, draft; an order; a pass",
  is even closer to the meaning and use of the military "chit"
  which Mike and Ron have described.

  There are two amusing sources in English on "Anglo-Indian
  colloquial words and phrases".  The Glossary called "Hobson-
  Jobson" by Col. Henry Yule and A. C. Burnell, London
  1886, observes under "CHIT, CHITTY":

    "n. A letter or note; also a certificate given to a servant,
    or the like; a pass...[derivations from Hindi and Marathi]
    from Sanskrit "chitra" meaning 'marked'..."  There follow
    several examples of the word in actual historical context
    including, from 1829, "He wanted a 'chithee' or note,
    for this is the most note-writing country under heaven".

  Nigel B. Hankin's parody of "Hobson-Jobson", whimsically
  entitled "Hanklyn-Janklin", New Delhi 1992, has this under

         "n.  An anglicism from chitti, a letter; meaning an
    informal piece of paper serving as a cash memo, a memo-
    randum, a delivery note, etc.
         "To receive, or give, a good (or bad) chit: a reference
    to a written commendation (or censure), or a favourable
    (or unfavourable) report.  A clean chit: the equivalent of
    an unblemished report."

  Like others, I used the term "chit" routinely in the Subcontinent
  from the 50s up to now, for such purposes as letters of
  reference for household servants (they were always called
  "chits"), social notes, receipts for purchases or things left for
  repair (alternatively known by the English loanword "rah-seeds")
  and, of course, running tabs at the club bar.  Vicariously, the
  term sometimes raised eyebrows when mistaken in conversation
  for its vulgar near-homonym."

  Wayne Homren, Editor

Google Web
The Numismatic Bibliomania Society is a non-profit organization 
promoting numismatic literature. See our web site at

To submit items for publication in The E-Sylum, write to the Editor 
at this address:

To subscribe go to:
Copyright © 2005 The Numismatic Bibliomania Society.



Copyright © 1998 - 2005 The Numismatic Bibliomania Society (NBS)
All Rights Reserved.

NBS Home Page
Contact the NBS webmaster