- Hobson-Jobson: The Definitive Glossary of British India by Henry Yule and A. C. Burnell
Is there an author out there who does not wish, when sending off a completed manuscript, that his or her book will succeed enough to warrant a second edition? Henry Yule, a military engineer who had turned, in his retirement from British India, into a well-regarded editor and annotator of medieval travel narratives, harbored just such hope as he sent off the final bits of his long-gestated Hobson-Jobson manuscript (co-authored with the late Arthur Burnell) to his London publisher, John Murray, in early January 1886. In closing his preface, Yule wrote, “My first endeavor in preparing this work has been to make it accurate; my next to make it—even though a Glossary—interesting.” Should he have failed at that second goal, he continued, there would be “little to be hoped for from a second edition.”
Although the glossary was generally well-received and accrued a number of glowing reviews in the year it was published, it was no blockbuster. When Yule died in 1889, the glossary was selling steadily but slowly, and it would take another eleven years for its initial British print run of one thousand copies to sell out (JMA, Ms. 42733, f. 62 et seq.). There is no evidence that John Murray was even contemplating a second edition (perhaps because Yule was dead in 1889) until the ethnographer and retired British Indian civil servant William Crooke proposed writing one in February 1900, after noticing in Murray’s catalogue that Hobson-Jobson had gone out of print. Murray accepted Crooke’s proposal and published Crooke’s edited second edition in 1903. Sales were steady but not stellar: a dozen years later, of the 1,500 copies of Crooke’s edition printed in 1903, more than 600 remained in Murray’s warehouse, and the book had not yet earned a profit (JMA, Ms. 42737, f. 11 et seq.). And yet, since the mid-1960s, a steady stream of reprint editions based on Crooke’s work has kept Hobson-Jobson on the market and on the minds of aficionados and nostalgists of British India, as well as historians, lexicographers, and other scholars. (The latest of [End Page 225] these reprints was published in 2013 by New Age Books, New Delhi.) A number of electronic versions of Crooke’s edition are also available online, including a version published by the Digital Dictionaries of South Asia project at the University of Chicago.1
Hobson-Jobson aimed to document and explain (not just define) the words that had been adopted into English from the many languages the British encountered in their vast Asian empire. Although its original subtitle advertises a focus on “Anglo-Indian” words, within it the adventurous reader can also find adoptions that entered English from Arabic, Persian, Afghan, Tibetan, Chinese, Burmese, Malay, and other languages, apparently without having made a stopover in India. In compiling evidence of each entry word’s use, Yule & Burnell drew on an astounding range of sources: from the travel narratives with which Yule was quite familiar as president of the Hakluyt Society, to government and legal documents; histories; newspapers and magazines; journals, memoirs and diaries; poetry and novels; dictionaries of all stripes; and books on sports and cookery, on plants, animals, and birds, on art, geology, and fairy tales. Their access to and knowledge of medieval travel narratives, combined with their polyglotism, unearthed for readers evidence not just of the first use of terms in English, but often very early mentions of these terms by other Europeans, such as ancient Greek references to Brahmins; Pliny’s Latin description of sugar, the etymology of which is traced to Sanskrit; the commentaries of the French navigator François Pyrard de Laval on the presence in the early 1600s of the Portuguese in India; and the reports of the Portuguese travelers Gaspar Correa and Garcia de...