Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. An indigenous soldier serving in the army of a foreign conqueror, especially an Indian soldier serving under British command in India.
  • n. The lowest enlisted rank in the British Indian army and its successors, equivalent to private.
  • n. One holding this rank.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A native soldier of the East Indies, employed in the service of a European colonial power, notably the British India army (first under the British-chartered East India Company, later in the crown colony), but also France and Portugal.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A native of India employed as a soldier in the service of a European power, esp. of Great Britain; an Oriental soldier disciplined in the European manner.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. In India, a native soldier disciplined and uniformed according to European regulations; especially, a native soldier of the British army in India. The officers of sepoys have usually been European, and those of the higher ranks are exclusively so.

Etymologies

Probably from Portuguese sipae, from Urdu sipāhī, from Persian, cavalryman, from sipāh, army.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Portuguese sipae, from Urdu سپاہی (sipāhī), from Persian سپاهی (sepâhi, "soldier, horseman"), from سپاه (sepâh, "army"). Compare spahi. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • Like his mother, he has positioned himself as a "sepoy" of the poor, untouchables and tribals, as he himself tells it.

    A Look at the Man Who Could Be India's King

  • Although not far, the distance was too great for Hukam Singh to cover on foot, for he had been wounded in the leg while serving as a sepoy in a British regiment.

    Excerpt: Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

  • Now, on climbing into the back of the cart, the former sepoy sat facing to the rear, with his bundle balanced on his lap, to prevent its coming into direct contact with any of the driver's belongings.

    Excerpt: Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

  • What Ilderim said was probably true, too; Cawnpore and the other river strongholds would be where our generals would concentrate - I could get back among my own kind, and shed this filthy beard and sepoy kit and feel civilised again.

    Fiancée

  • Moore took me round the entrenchment, stooping as he walked and I hobbled, for the small-arms fire from the distant sepoy lines kept whistling overhead, smacking into the barrack-wall, and every so often a large shot would plump into the enclosure or smash another lump out of the building.

    Fiancée

  • "It is a lie that the sepoy Pandy was drunk!" cries he.

    Fiancée

  • O'Toole pointed to the small sepoy, who had managed to pull himself well up his rope, getting his elbow in the bight of it, and was tugging at the noose with his other hand.

    Fiancée

  • Men were struggling in the water only a few yards from me - I saw a British soldier sabred down, another floundering back as a sepoy shot him point-blank through the body, and a third, thrust through with a bayonet, sinking down slowly on the muddy shore.

    Fiancée

  • "Nay, the Rani will pay it from her treasury," says I, giving him my shrill sepoy giggle.

    Fiancée

  • Of course they'd taken me for a pandy - with my matted hair and beard and filthy and ragged sepoy uniform; they'd seen I wasn't dead, and decided to execute me in style, along with other prisoners.

    Fiancée

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  • "Although rumblings had been apparent for some time among discontented sepoys (Indian infantrymen) and in the bazaars, few of the ruling political class or the military hierarchy suspected that a widespread uprising would ensue."
    —Annabel Venning, Following the Drum: The Lives of Army Wives and Daughters Past and Present (London: Headline, 2005), 214

    May 18, 2010

  • "The earliest cases in Bombay erupted on a transport soon after its arrival May 29. First seven police sepoys who worked the docks were admitted to the police hospital..."
    —John M. Barry, The Great Influenza (NY: Penguin Books, 2004), 172

    February 14, 2009

  • Indian soldier

    February 7, 2007