From India With Love   

From India With Love   

Did you get up this morning wearing your pyjamas, do some yoga in the verandah of your Bungalow and then shower & shampoo your hair?

Well even if you didn’t do all of this, you would know that all of these highlighted words, that we often use in the English language today, came from India. What you might not know, however, is the fact that these and 2000 other Indian words were introduced to the world through the quaint-sounding ‘Hobson-Jobson’ dictionary. Published in 1886, the odd name of the dictionary itself was inspired by the  Arabic chant ‘Ya Hasan! Ya Hosain’! Intriguing as it is, the story of how the dictionary came about is also fascinating.

In 1872 two men Sir Henry Yule and Arthur Burnell began work on a compilation of words of Asian origin used by the British in India. Theirs was an unlikely partnership -Sir Henry Yule was an old soldier under the East India Company, who had spent long years serving in the Khasi Hills in the North East of India and Arther Burnell was a civil servant from Madras. Both had an abiding interest in the local. Burnell, for instance, was well versed in Sanskrit and Telugu and he had a collection of 350 manuscripts. He also published a book on South Indian writing. ‘Handbook of South Indian Palaeography’ in 1874 and this won him an honorary doctorate at the University of Strasbourg in France. Yule meanwhile was passionate about Central Asia, he authored and published many books and his work ‘The book of Marco Polo’ (1871) received the Founder’s Gold Medal from the Royal Geographic Society in 1872.

Photograph and signature of Henry Yule | Wikimedia Commons

The Yule Burnell partnership first began with an exchange of letters. In the preface of the Hobson-Jobson dictionary Yule, explains  –

We had only met once – at the Indian Library; but he (Brunell) took a kindly interest in work that engaged me, and this led to an exchange of letters, which went on after his return to India. About 1872 – he mentioned that he was contemplating a vocabulary of Anglo-Indian words, and had made some collections with a view. In reply, I stated that I likewise had long been taking notes of such words and I proposed that we should combine our labours.

And they did, to create the Hobson-Jobson dictionary which was published in 1886 by John Murray Publications, London. Unfortunately, Arthur Burnell died in 1882 before the book was published. The dictionary was a big success with a ready market in India, amongst the British serving in the country. One factor for the popularity of the dictionary was its title. Inspired by the Arabic chant ‘Ya Hasan! Ya Hosain’!, used during the festival of Muharram as an expression of mourning, Hobson-Jobson was a play on how  British soldiers referred to the chant as ‘Hosseen Gosseen’, or  ‘Hossein Jossen’. This ultimately became Hobson-Jobson, an ode to the Indian penchant for double words like naukar-chakar . In this case, it also implied dual authorship.

The Hobson-Jobson dictionary was a great success. By 1902, a second edition was published. The last edition of this dictionary was published as recently as 2013, by the Oxford University Press.

A page from the second edition of the dictionary  | Wikimedia Commons 

In all, there are more than 2200 words of Indian origin given in the ‘Hobson-Jobson: a  Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases, and of Kindred Terms, Etymological, Historical, Geographical and Discursive’, some of which are described below –

Pyjamas – from the Hindi and Urdu word ‘Paijaamaa’ for leg garment

Shampoo – Derived from the Hindi word ‘chaampo’ which means to rub or head massage

Verandah – from Hindi word ‘baramdaa’ (or of other Indian languages) which was taken by Portuguese in India

Bungalow – from Urdu word ‘bangla’ meaning house in the Bengali style

Typhoon – from the Urdu word ‘toofaan

Chit – from Hindi word ‘Chitti’ meaning a letter or a note

Bandanna – from the word ‘bandhana’ meaning to tie

Zen – Originally taken from Pali word ‘Jhana’ or Sanskrit word ‘Dhyana’ which means meditation

It is a testimony to the Hobson-Jobson’s enduring appeal, that it has never been out of print for the last 132 years. And it has contributed greatly, adding an Indian ‘tadka’ or garnish, to the English language!


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