Sir Henry Yule was a Scottish gentleman and an army man who – among other things – translated in English Il Milione, Marco Polo’s travelogue and indispensable Silk Road narrative.
Arthur Coke Burnell (yes, his middle name was really Coke) was an expert in the Sanskrit language, but he was also handy with Tibetan, Arabic, Kawi, Javanese and Coptic. A well-rounded scholar, so to speak.
These two fine gentlemen got together and in 1886 published a wonderful book which is called Hobson-Jobson or, to be more precise and wonderfully Victorian, Hobson-Jobson: A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases, and of Kindred Terms, Etymological, Historical, Geographical and Discursive.
And no kidding.
So, yes, the Hobson-Jobson had nothing to do with any gentleman ever named Hobson, or, for that matter, Jobson.
Sure, a guy called William Crooke also did some later work on it, but no Jobsons, or Hobsons, at all.
The title of this delightful book is the corruption of the expression “Yā Ḥasan! Yā Ḥosain!”, a phrase used by Muslim faithful during the processio of Muharram, which came to mean – to English speakers in the Sub-Continent – just any kind of “native festival” in India.
And this is what Yule and Burnell’s Hobson-Jobson’s all about – words and phrases that entered everyday English usage from Indian languages.
Stuff like bungalow, bandanna, dinghy, guru, juggernaut and so on and so forth.
I have here on my shelf the Wordsworth Reference edition, which is cheap and easily obtained.
It’s a fascinating source of insight about how vital and fluid languages can be – and it is also one of those books which seem to belong in adventure stories – together with babylonian dictionaries and compendia about hauntings in the Home Counties.
It’s one of those weird books one imagines graced the shelves in Sherlock Holmes’ house – or in Sexton Blake‘s! – and whose contents were familiar to the likes of Doc Savage or Indiana Jones (and did not The Spider have an Indian butler?)
And indeed, it’s quite a useful tool for writers of old pulp stories – and translators too.
Writing anything in the Oriental Stories or Magic Carpet style would be impossible without this baby.