Pukka is a term popularized and overused by celebrity cook Jamie Oliver, who subsequently vowed to stop using it. Which is good, because it is quite annoying, like most everything else he says. But what does it mean? What is the origin?
Well, the word came to be used by the British during the British reign in India, known as the British Raj, from 1858 to 1947. It is derived from the Hindi word pakka which means “properly cooked” or “substantial.” Originally, the word was used as part of the expression pukka sahib (sahib was pronounced saahbh) which meant to British colonialists real gentleman or good dude or something like that, but was claimed as a term of polite respect to be used by a Hindi when addressing a colonial authority during the Raj era.
The original meaning of sahib was “lord” or “master” but was also used as simply a slightly more formal form of “sir” as with titles and last names, which is how it is used today. So, for instance, if you were asking after Arjun you might say “How is Arjun Saahbh?”
The idea that British colonialists were there to uplift the Indian people was probably the root of such fantasies as the British use of the term denotes. It is sometimes said that the term was used by Indians to other Indians who were being pretentious and acting like Englishmen.
Pukka came eventually to be used to describe anything deemed genuine or substantial. Sort of like “the real McCoy.” A number of famous English writers used the term, including Rudyard Kipling and E.M. Forster.
The term pukka is still used in India, but without any British connotation. So a person who is a “rich, prim and proper” kind of guy may be called a pukka saahbh, but this always has at least a bit of sarcasm attached. On the other hand, if you called someone a pukka asshole, you’d mean it sincerely, and would be saying he’s a definite, genuine asshole!