English and its Indian makeover

Introducing Hobson-Jobson and Hanklyn Janklyn

Just yesterday I was having a heated discussion with my sons. We were talking about the new movie ‘Avatar’ which we had gone to see. Now when I tried explaining that the word Avatar is actually Sanskrit, they were vehement in the argument that it was a very English word. After a while I gave up but was reminded of this article I had started some months ago, but had drifted away to other matters. Anyway this discussion and G 42’s recent blog stirred me up to complete this.

Some years ago, while in the UK, the Sunday Times provided a BBC audio CD together with the paper. It was a delightful lesson on punctuation, titled ‘Eats shoots & leaves’. The title of course is based on the fable where a panda bear comes to a hotel, eats food then shoots into the air and leaves. Upon being asked why it did it, it points to a wrongly punctuated dictionary entry – panda– large black & white bear like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves. For a country that takes pride in its language and one that is spoken by much of the world today, it was a great reminder of how the language should be used. But this is not an article about punctuation, which is left for another day where we can recount many more such anecdotes; it is about ingress of Indian lingo into English.

Imagine the plight of the British with the stiff upper lip, upon their arrival in the India of the 19th century. As they introduced their language to the indigenous people and had them reluctantly accept it with local adaptations and additions, they also picked up and learnt many an Indian word themselves, considering such introductions more apt & explanatory in the vocabulary. Thus was born ‘Desi Pidgin’.But then, it was not to be for Yule & Burnell who took it all one step further & decided to make a dictionary to cover the peculiar Eurasian tongue of India or Pidgin English. Many of those words have since transgressed into mainstream, and you will definitely say that they are now well worn English words.

Some examples are - curry, toddy, veranda, cheroot, loot, nabob, teapoy, sepoy, cowry, batta, pucka, chowry, baboo, mahout, aaya, nautch, chintz, calico, gingham, also shawl, bamboo, pagoda, typhoon, monsoon, mandarin, palanquin, chank, junk, jogy, kincob, kedgeree, fanam, calay, bankshall, mudiliar, verandah, tindal, cranny..These have crept in over time, through the Portuguese & British times, though strangely not in Dutch times.

And so after all that, strange as it may seem, India today has the highest number of English speakers in the world and it is here that you will come across many a proper speaker of the original Victorian version of this Anglo tongue than the highly accented versions you will come across in Britain such as the slanted Cockney, Irish, Welsh or Scottish tongues…Well, to cut to the chase - I decided to peep without purpose into my musty yellowing copy of Hobson Jobson, the thick 1001 page book that smelt like it had been sitting a very long time in a attic and delightfully housing various varieties of fungi…My bottle of ‘benadryl’ was close at hand…And I read the story of Burnell and Yule.

Now it all started when Burnell, working with the Madras civil service got ‘sort of’ bored, as they put it here in America. An English man living in Tanjavur, you can imagine how dreadful the Carnatic music, temple related activities and strict Iyer, Iyengar culture of that place would have tired him. Anyway he started writing to Henry Yule who was living in salubrious Palermo eating pasta and cheese and they became unlikely collaborators in the task of compiling this massive, amusing and insightful work (Even more strangely they just met once!). What started in 1872 or so as a partnership continued on even after the death of Burnell in 1882 and eventually got published in 1896. Now you must realize that while the purpose was to document Pidgin, the result also became a study in history. Today I would consider it a valuable history source for it documents many a word and its antecedents, the meanings and the evolution as such. Any student of Indian history must lay his hands on this book and at a price of $1 plus shipping, it is well worth it. Not only is it amusing but also a treasure trove of all kinds of things Indian and British, and it covers the colonial vestiges left behind, such as by the Portuguese (though there is another book in Portuguese Indian words). Like how manga became mango.

To get a hang of how the matter is handled & presented, take a look at this page for the details it provide, historical and factual. Some words stretch many pages providing a master class in cross references and connections.

Yule is very careful in his preface – stating thus “The work has been so long the companion of my ‘herae subsicivae’, a thread running through the joys and sorrows of so many years, in the search for material first, and then in their handling and adjustment to the edifice — for their careful building up has been part of my duty from the beginning, and the whole of the matter has, I suppose, been written and re-written with my own hand at least four times — and the work has been one of so much interest to dear friends, of whom not a few are no longer here to welcome its appearance in print, that I can hardly speak of the work except as mine. Yule also explains why the book was titled thus instead of say ‘The Indian vocabulary’.
But how did the book get its name? Yule explains - A valued friend of the present writer many years ago published a book, of great acumen and considerable originality, which he called Three Essays, with no Author's name; and the resulting amount of circulation was such as might have been expected…. It seemed to me that A Glossary or A vocabulary would be equally unattractive, and that it ought to have an alternative title at least a little more characteristic. If the reader will turn to Hobson-Jobson in the Glossary itself, he will find that phrase, though now rare and moribund, to be a typical and delightful example of that class of Anglo-Indian argot which consists of Oriental words highly assimilated, perhaps by vulgar lips, to the English vernacular; whilst it is the more fitted to our book, conveying, as it may, a veiled intimation of dual authorship. At any rate, there it is; and at this period my feeling has come to be that such is the book's name, nor could it well have been anything else.

And as time went by, the very act of altering a foreign expression to fit within the patterns of the borrowing language got termed as Hobson Jobsonism. But what has Hobson & Jobson got to do with Burnell and Yule? Are they two people? Not at all!! The term Hobson-Jobson itself is apparently an Anglo-Indian adaptation of the Shia Muslim cry "Ya Husan! Ya Husain!", used to mourn the deaths of Prophet Muhammad's grandsons.

Ok – so what has that got to do with Hobson Jobson? Well, a study of the phrase in the book explains how the outlandish term got coined. It appears that a T. Herbert in 1618 heard it as 'Hussan Hussan'; Fryer in 1673 wrote it as 'Hosseen Gosseen' and 'Hossy Gossy'; in 1726 it was reported that the Dutch called it 'Jaksom Baksom', and the Portuguese as 'Saucem Saucem'. In 1902 a lady by name Miss Goodrich-Freer settled the matter by writing it as 'Hobson-Jobson.' And that is how ya hussain becam ehobson jobson to the English! Interesting indeed, a’int it? Salman Rushdie jovially states "I don't quite see how the colonial British managed to hear (Ya Hassan Ya Hussain) as Hobson-Jobson but this is clearly a failure of imagination on my part." So it was all like apalam chapalam was coined in Hindi, kalli valli in Arabic …

But even for a book that took so long to create, the entries stopped with Yule in 1886. Since then many more words have crept in thanks to long distance migration. Yule concludes his opening remarks thus - In a work intersecting so many fields, only a fool could imagine that he had not fallen into many mistakes; but these when pointed out, may be amended. If I have missed the other object of endeavour, I fear there is little to be hoped for from a second edition.
Now I will spend a while on my hypothesis with one popular word, the word being Verandah. Look at the word verandah – Verandah: Everybody seemingly knows what it is they all use it and knows not where it comes from. It is roughly explained by one early writer as follows - before the lowest (storey) there is generally a small hall supported by pillars of teka (Teak) wood. This hall is called varanda, and supplies the place of a parlour. Has Indian origins but no one quite knows from where.
Veranda has been confidently derived by some etymologists (among others by M. Defremery, a distinguished scholar) from the Pers. bardmada, 'a projection,' a balcony; an etymology which is indeed hardly a possible one, but has been treated by Mr. Beames (who was evidently unacquainted with the facts that do make it hardly possible) with inappropriate derision, he giving as the unquestionable original a Sanskrit word baranda, 'a portico.'

On this Burnell has observed that the word does not belong to the older Sanskrit, but is only found in comparatively modern works. Be that as it may, it need not be doubted that the word veranda, as used in England and France, was imported from India, i.e. from the usage of Europeans in India ; but it is still more certain that either in the same sense, or in one closely allied, the word existed, quite independent of either Sanskrit or Persian, in Portuguese and Spanish, and the manner in which it occurs in the very earliest narrative of the Portuguese adventure to India (Roteiro do Viagem de Vasco da Gama, written by one of the expedition of 1497), confirmed by the Hispano-Arabic vocabulary of Pedro de Alcala, printed in 1505, preclude the possibility of its having been adopted by the Portuguese from intercourse with India.

But I have another theory – in the days of the stringent caste system, when the English or Portuguese or some foreign man of non Hindu religion stepped to visit the Nair household and entered the portico (Poram thalam), the maid of the house or karyasthan (estate manager) would have screamed ‘veranda veranda’ in Malayalam– meaning ‘do not enter - don’t enter’ – for the house will be polluted by the entry of a non Hindu.

So he sat there on a wooden stool in the Thalam and thought – hmm. They call this place ‘veranda’ signifying the hall where I should sit. And thus a new word was born.

Not bad eh? But I was not around to advice Burnell & Yule.

By the way, even today, in a traditional Nair Nalu Kettu, for example in Palakkad or Ottapalam, a caste below the Nair is not allowed to enter the main house. In our house, I still remember, as time went by, specific lower caste servants were allowed though, but then again only when necessary.

That my friends is, venrandah for you…

Another example is Shampoo. But first, try & recall the movie and Johnnie Walker singing Sar jo…tel malish…in the Guru Dutt masterpiece Pyaasa. Champanya..he slurs.. that word champanya or massage became Champoo and this was the origin of the word Shampoo. Thus it turns out that the etymology of shampoo is from Hindi and meant to “press, pound and kneed,” like you do to bread dough. Originally a shampoo wasn’t a hair cleaning lotion, but a massage.

And then, how many of you knew this? Widow (n) An Indo-European word linked to the Sanskrit widh/vidh, meaning lacking, bereft, alone. In today's Hindi, a widow is widhwa.

Thus many thousand words entered the strict Victorian English world…to become the English that we know today. Words like Box, Bunglow, chicken, compound, competition, Charpoy, dandy, pug, sir, brinjal, batman, tank, tiffin, shampoo, verandah and so on are just a few examples. In April 2009, English acquired its millionth word. Some 1.4 billion people speak the language.

Now what is Hinglish compared to Hobson Jobsonism or HJ? Look at the definition of HJ – "Hobson-Jobson" refers to a law of linguistics by which speakers of one language adapt (i.e., garble ) a word or phrase from a different language to make it fit the patterns of their own. Hinglish on the other hand is - blending of the words "Hindi" and "English", means to combine both types of words in one sentence. This is more commonly seen in urban and semi-urban centers of the Hindi-speaking states of India, but is slowly spreading into rural and remote areas of these states via television, mobile phones and word of mouth, slowly achieving vernacular status. Many speakers do not realize that they are incorporating English words into Hindi sentences or Hindi words into English sentences. David Crystal, a British linguist at the University of Wales, projected in 2004 that at about 350 million, the world's Hinglish speakers may soon outnumber native English speakers. Columnist Devyani Chaubal was apparently the first author to use Hinglish in her work. Author Shobhaa De then began to use Hinglish elements in her books and columns in the Indian magazine Stardust. Other authors that have used Hinglish extensively in their novels are Salman Rushdie and Upamanyu Chatterjee. In 2005, Baljinder Kaur Mahal (pen name BK Mahal) wrote a book called, The Queen's Hinglish: How to Speak Pukka.

And then one man, a gorah who lived in new Delhi working in the British High commission, decided to spend the rest of his life making a new glossary called Hanklyn Janklyn. The Times Literary Supplement immediately pronounced that Nigel Hanklin's far more recent Hanklyn-Janklyn, A Stranger's Rumble-Tumble Guide to Some Words, Customs, and Quiddities Indian and Indo-British may have 'dealt a mortal blow' to Hobson-Jobson by being ‘more precise, more up-to-date…and more explicit'. His story is explained in these articles which provide a backdrop to the creation of the new version.

That might all be true. But I have never needed to look beyond the perennial favorite, the gem, the Hobson Jobson, even if I have to enrich the makers of Benadryl.

The On line Hobson Jobson - Anybody who wants to do an online search can go here and insert the word to get to the core.


yasho said…
Maddy, check these words out... I had collected these for an earlier article

English Portuguese Malayalam
Jackfruit Jaca Chakka
Mango Manga Manga
Onion Cebola Sabola
Orange Laranja(Naranja in Spanish) Naranga
Cashew Caju Cashew
Teak Teca Thekk
Almirah Armario Alamari
Window Janela Janal
Table Mesa Mesha
Chair Cadeira Kasera
Sugar Asucar Sarkara(actually molasses rather than sugar)

Then there are some Dutch words too..I dont know any of the Europena languages, it is all stuff ciollected from net, but I have had some confirmations for the POrtuguese versions from native speakers.

English Dutch Malayalam
Toiletbowl Kakhuis Kakkus
Post Tapal Thapal
Happy Kitten said…
Very interesting.. yet to see the movie but the word Avatar did strike as Indian to me since we are way too familiar with it..maybe not the younger generation if they are away from India..

nd after the computer revolution we see many Indian words being used which again shows that the Indian influence was too much to be ignored.
Brilliant and as always informative!

Bandicoot, catamaran, mulligatawny are other examples that come to mind.

I like especially your theory of the origin of verandah.
> An English man living in Tanjavur,
> you can imagine how dreadful the
> Carnatic music, temple related
> activities and strict Iyer, Iyengar
> culture of that place would have
> tired him.

At that time the 'culture of that place' had more than its full share of Telugu, Marathi sub cultures in addition to the 'Iyer, Iyengar' culture.

I would also think it was far from 'strict'. Thanjavur was a center of music and dance - so presumably the Iyers and Iyengars of the Englishman's acquaintance were up to their eyeballs in devadasi's :)

That's not to say they didn't indulge in some cerebral callisthenics when they tired of the other sort. Narayana Bhattathiri sent drafts of his works to pundits in Thanjavur for early reviews.

The view from Research Triangle may be quite skewed :)
Maddy said…
Yasho, the etymology of these words and many more can be found in hobson jobson. also as i said there is a Portuguese Indian dictionary.
Maddy said…
Thanks HK..
Avatar has no Indian connections, except for the avatar and some other philosophies. it is an interesting movie though.

Thanks raji..
adaptation...i guess. In some other countries where they are very proud of their language they are strict and force you to learn the actual pronunciation.
Maddy said…
Thanks LNS..

I am not too sure of all that with respect to the serious and academic AC Burnell who had a very poor physical constitution.

So it was the constitution that tired him, not the music or the culture.. you are right that i had not got the facts correct when i made that silly offhand remark, though for different reasons.. Apologies..

In fact Burnell was also a Sanskrit scholar and an expert in Hindu law. He has collected & published many works in Sanskrit, can you believe that, not only that he spoke a smattering of Tibetan, Arabic, Kawi, Javanese and Coptic.
Fascinating stuff. I had heard about shampoo for instance, but never made the connect with champi.

hinglish is a funny language.

also wish you a very happy new year.
No need for apologies, Maddy. In fact You should feel free to libel the Thanjavur types incl., the Iyers and the Iyengars to the hilt in that gentle way of yours :)
shinojcv said…
Nice post Maddy,as a malayali nice to know the emergence of many words in malayalam.
shinojcv said…
I have watched 'AVATAR' first day first show though it was not in 3D(3Ds only in three theatres in Kerala)it was a real experience watching.I think the word AVATAR is from sanskrit.
Dreamer said…
The Panda joke is one of my all time favs. I wonder if you've heard this story - (I don't know if it can retain the punch that it has in Malayalam)

In the days of the British Raj, a Malayali was digging in his yard when a Britisher passed by and asked him "What is that plant?" The man who was digging for cassava, misunderstood and replied "Onnumilla Saayippe, onnu thappi nokkua". "Thappi okka?",asked the Britisher? "Yes yes, thappi okkua", replied the Malayali and thus the plant was named Tapioca! Pure fiction, I suspect, but enjoyable, none the less.
kallu said…
Well researched, comprehensive and informative as usual, Maddy. 'verandah' takes the cake.
gauri said…
This is a topic I'm extremely passionate about. That leaves a choice of either a very brief comment or one as long as a post. Let me just say, very well written :) I sure intend to look this book up!

Maddy said…
Thanks Gauri You will not be disappointed
Maddy said…
Thanks Kallu - I think that was a sensible deduction..though not worthy of entry into a HJ revision..
Maddy said…
Thanks Dreamer..that was a good one about our kappa...which i guess comes from yucca..

and that reminds me of kashinettu - cashew nut..
Maddy said…
shinojcv - here they have avtar in 3D and imax - just imagine that!! though i saw the normal 3d.
The British culinary catalogue does include borrowed words such as Chutney which is from Tamil
Maddy said…
yes you are right rohini, there are a number of words from Tamil as you will see in hobson jobson...another example is mulligatawny (milagu tanni)

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