Friday, February 24, 2017


Henry Yule & Arthur Coke Burnell - Hobson-Jobson: A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases (1886) direct link 
Open Library main page

The fifth in The Guardian's list of Top 10 Dictionaries and another reference work that's more entertaining reading than most novels.  Hobson-Jobson is a "vocabulary of Anglo-Indian words" (per preface) with the specifically stated goals of being accurate and then interesting.  Much effort was clearly made for the accuracy - the introduction lists 22 previous glossaries and several pages of consulted works.  Sources are quoted chronologically like the OED.

Interesting of course depends on whether you find this kind of thing interesting but I suspect anybody bothering to read this post would.  "Buffalo", for instance, has a long description of probable development, almost its own short story, from Portuguese through India (with a nod to Pliny) before quoting a couple of classical sources and then from the 16th century up to the book's present day.  Those of us who love Indian food will find entries like that on curry of particular interest. (And this is as good a time as any to mention Lizzie Collingham's 2006 Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors which has been on my to-read list for a few years.)

The book is more than merely a collection of Indian words that appear in English.  Sources range from Hindi and Portuguese to Arabic, Malay, Persian and others.  (The author notes almost sadly "The Dutch language has not contributed much to our store.")  This reflects the mix of different cultures in the sub-continent but also Yule and Burnell's more accepting approach - without any evidence I suspect it's probably a bit too accepting but that's undoubtedly better than an insistence on purity.

Hobson-Jobson has enjoyed a thriving existence since publication.  It's currently in print in the Oxford World's Classics series where the editor remarks "Many people feel a particular affection towards Hobson-Jobson, the kind of attachment that only truly idiosyncratic books can generate."  (I'm reminded of how many of us feel about Brewer's dictionaries of myth and religion.)  Kipling reviewed it favorably ("a fascinating volume, neither glossary, vocabulary, dictionary or anything else that may be described in one word").  Salman Rushdie wrote about it in his essay collection Imaginary Homelands.