Hobson Jobson – A Must-Have Dictionary in Every Indian’s Library


This delightful and quirky piece of verse and many more such nuggets can be found in one of my favorite books – “Hobson – Jobson”.

That is the short title and the actual one goes like this:

A Glossary of Anglo-Indian phrases and of kindred terms etymological, historical, geographical and discursive

With such a ponderous tag you would expect a dull and insipid book. But it’s a treasure trove of amusing snippets and historic bytes from the era of British Raj.

Co – authored by Henry Yule & Arthur C. Burnell the first edition was published way back in 1886.

This book is not only a glossary of words of Indian origin which has entered the English language in a distorted form but it contains well researched pieces describing the origin of a word, its cultural context and usage.

This dictioanary is available at Flipkart at a reasonable price: Hobson Jobson


The title Hobson – Jobson is itself a phrase whose origin is traced to the cry of Muslims- “Ya Hasan!, Ya Hussain!” -during Moharrum processions.

Words we take for granted as authentic English like loot, bandicoot, catamaran, godown, verandah have their roots in Indian Languages.


Sample this:

Cummerbund – A girdle, H from P. kamar-band, i.e. ‘a loin – band.’

Such an article of dress is habitually worn by domestic servants, peons and irregular troops ; but any waist belt is so termed.

Just leafing through the book one tends to discover quite a lot of interesting vignettes about the social and cultural practices prevalent during the Raj.

There are extensively researched pieces on the practice of Suttee (Sati), purdah system etc. reading which you are not only entertained but kept informed too.

The broken English spoken by native servants in the Madras Presidency; which is not very better than the Pigeon-English of China. It is a singular dialect ; the present participle (e.g.) being used for the future indicative, and the preterite indicative being formed by ‘done’; thus I telling = ‘ I will tell’; I done tell = ‘I have told’….etc.

I believe the author Amitav Ghosh, did refer to this book as part of his research for his period piece “The Sea of Poppies”.

Here is another interesting entry. Think of the phrase “Sudden Death” and we naturally connect it with Soccer, but Hobson-Jobson has a different story to tell about the phrase:

Sudden Death. An Anglo-Indian slang for for a fowl served as a spatchcock, the standing dish at a dawk-bungalow in former days. The bird was caught in the yard, as the traveler entered, and was on the table by the time he had bathed and dressed.

At times when I get bored and have time in my hands I happily hobnob with Hobson-Jobson. You should too.

The online version of the dictionary can be found here:

This article was first published on Desicritics

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