Anoop Desai thinks Desis are Southeast Asian

Former American Idol contestant Anoop Desai has been doing lots of interviews and media appearances lately to promote the release of his first single next month. Desai’s team has been specifically marketing the single to the South Asian community here in the States and on Friday he did a Q-&-A with Desi Hits over Twitter. (You can read the entire conversation here.)

Because Desai has spoken so much about the influence of Indian culture on his music, I was surprised to see his first Tweet to @desihits:

Confidential to Anoop: the term Desi refers to people from South Asia, not Southeast Asia. In case you are reading, the SAJA Stylebook has a nice definition of the term:

Desi: A colloquial name for South Asians, people who trace their ancestry to South Asia, especially India, Bangladesh, Pakistan. Pronounced “THEY-see,” it is the Hindi word for “from my country” (from the word “desh,” which means “country”). In an article about the South Asian party scene in the Big Apple, New York Times reporter Somini Sengupta described the word as a “Hindi version of homeboy or homegirl” (NYT, 6/30/96: “To Be Young, Indian and Hip”). That’s a pretty good definition. See South Asian.

In contrast, here’s an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry for Southeast Asia:

Southeast Asia consists of two geographic regions: the Asian mainland (aka. Indochina), and island arcs and archipelagoes to the east and southeast. The mainland section section consists of Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Peninsular Malaysia while the maritime section consists of Brunei, East Malaysia, East Timor, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, and Singapore.

Desai’s not the only one who has confused South and Southeast Asian recently. During his last Comedy Central special, Aziz Ansari described Tamil as a “Southeast Asian” language. It’s not.