I never understood why the British referred to their home country as “old Blighty.” These days the term is mainly used with self-depricating irony, but during its heyday it was said in earnest, to refer to a homeland dearly missed:
The term was more common in the later days of the British Raj… It is … commonly used as a term of endearment by the expatriate British community, or those on holiday to refer to home… During World War I, “Dear Old Blighty” was a common sentimental reference, suggesting a longing for home by soldiers in the trenches. [Link]
What confused me about the term was that it implied that the motherland was a blight, which is an odd thing for homesick soldiers to admit. While I may have thought of the Raj as blighted, I didn’t think that the soldiers fighting for it did so, and I definitely didn’t think the term was sanctioned by the British authorities.
The confusion was soon cleared up by Wikipedia which tells me that the word “Blighty” has little to do with blight, it’s a false cognate. Instead, it is a desi loan word. Yes, All things come from India uncle strikes again – even the British term from home comes from the Hindustani word (borrowed from Arabic) for foreign:
Blighty is a British English slang term for Britain, deriving from the Hindustani word vilayati, meaning “foreign”, related to the Arabic word wilayat, meaning a kingdom or province.
According to World Wide Words, Sir Henry Yule and Arthur C Burnell explained in their Anglo-Indian dictionary, Hobson-Jobson, published in 1886, that the word came to be used, in British India, for several things the British had brought into the country, such as the tomato (bilayati baingan) and soda water, which was commonly called bilayati pani, or “foreign water”. [Link]
That’s right – instead of longing for a blighted homeland, these soldiers were longing for a foreign one. It’s as if they started to refer to themselves as “goray log,” appropriating an Indocentric term for other to refer to themselves. With so little discrimination, they’re just lucky they didn’t end up calling Mother England “Bhenjotistan”.