- in India, China, etc., an unskilled native laborer: chiefly historical
- Informal any person doing hard or menial work for little pay
Origin of coolieHindi qul?, hired servant, probably ; from kol?, name of a tribe or caste of Gujarat
nounpl. coo·lies Offensive
Origin of coolieHindi qulī, laborer, perhaps ultimately from Kulī, a tribe in Gujarat.
- (offensive, slang) An unskilled Asian worker, usually of Chinese or Indian descent; a labourer; a porter. Coolies were frequently transported to other countries in the 19th and early 20th centuries as indentured labourers.
- (offensive, slang, Trinidad, West Indies, Guyana and parts of Africa) A person of Indian descent.
From Hindustani क़ुली / قلی (qulī, “hired laborer, slave”), from Turkish köle. Other forms occur in Bengali kuli and Tamil kuli, "daily hire." The Mandarin word 苦力 (kǔlì), meaning "to exert one's abilities; heavy labour work" in Classical Chinese, may have been influenced by cognates of the above Hindi word in other languages and may have further influenced English.