Hobson-Jobson: A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases, and of Kindred Terms, Etymological, Historical, Geographical and Discursive is a historical dictionary of Anglo-Indian words and terms from Indian languages which came into use during the British rule in India.

It was written by Sir Henry Yule and Arthur Coke Burnell and first published in 1886. Burnell died before the work was finished, and most of it was finished by Yule, who, however, fully acknowledged Burnell's contributions.[1] A subsequent edition was edited by William Crooke in 1903, with extra quotations and an index added.[2] The first and second editions are collector's items; the second edition is widely available in facsimile.

The dictionary holds over 2,000 entries,[3] generally with citations from literary sources, many of which date to the first European contact with the Indian subcontinent, frequently in other non-English European languages. Most entries also have etymological notes.


In Anglo-Indian English, the term Hobson-Jobson referred to any festival or entertainment, but especially ceremonies of the Mourning of Muharram. In origin the term is a corruption by British soldiers of "Yā Ḥasan! Yā Ḥosain!" which is repeatedly chanted by Shia Muslims as they mourn and beat their chests throughout the procession of the Muharram; this was then converted to Hosseen Gosseen, Hossy Gossy, Hossein Jossen and, ultimately, Hobson-Jobson.[4] Yule and Burnell were looking for a catchy title for their dictionary and decided upon this since they considered it a "typical and delightful example" of the type of highly domesticated words in the dictionary, and at the same time implied dual authorship.[5]

Rhyming reduplication (as in "Hobson-Jobson" or "puli kili") is highly productive in South Asian languages, where it is known popularly as an echo word. In English, however, rhyming reduplication is generally either juvenile (as in Humpty Dumpty or hokey-pokey) or pejorative (as in namby-pamby or mumbo-jumbo) and that, further, Hobson and Jobson were stock characters in Victorian times, used to indicate a pair of yokels, clowns, or idiots (compare Thomson and Thompson).[6][7] The title thus produced negative associations – being at best self-deprecatory on the part of the authors, suggesting themselves a pair of idiots – and reviewers reacted negatively to the title, generally praising the book but finding the title inappropriate. Indeed, anticipating this reaction, the title was kept secret – even from the publisher – until shortly before publication.[8]

Law of Hobson-Jobson

The term "law of Hobson-Jobson" is sometimes used in linguistics to refer to the process of phonological change by which loanwords are adapted to the phonology of the new language, as in the archetypal example of "Hobson-Jobson" itself.[9] Webster's Third International Dictionary gives as examples of the law of Hobson-Jobson: Spanish cucaracha becoming English "cockroach", and English "riding coat" becoming French redingote.[10]

See also


  1. Yule & Burnell, vii
  2. Yule & Burnell, xi
  3. James Lambert (2018). Setting the record straight: An in-depth examination of Hobson-Jobson. International Journal of Lexicography, 31(4): 485–506. DOI: 10.1093/ijl/ecy010
  4. Yule & Burnell, 419
  5. Yule & Burnell, ix
  6. Traci Nagle (2010). 'There is much, very much, in the name of a book' or, the Famous Title of Hobson-Jobson and How it Got That Way, in Michael Adams, ed., ′Cunning passages, contrived corridors′: Unexpected Essays in the History of Lexicography, pp. 111-127
  7. See also The Story Behind "Hobson-Jobson", in Word Routes: Exploring the Pathways of our Lexicon, by Ben Zimmer, June 4, 2009
  8. Nagle 2010, 114
  9. OED entry for "Hobson-Jobson"
  10. "hobson-jobson" in Webster's Third International Dictionary (1961/1986), Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica.


  • Yule, Henry; Burnell, A.C. (1903). Hobson-Jobson: A glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases, and of kindred terms, etymological, historical, geographical and discursive. William Crooke ed. London: J. Murray. (Searchable database)
  • Traci Nagle (2010). "'There is much, very much, in the name of a book' or, the Famous Title of Hobson-Jobson and How it Got That Way", in Michael Adams, ed., 'Cunning passages, contrived corridors': Unexpected Essays in the History of Lexicography, pp. 111–127.
  • Salman Rushdie, "Hobson-Jobson", in Imaginary Homelands: Essays & Criticisms, 1981–1991, also collected in Travelers' Tales India by James O'Reilly and Larry Habegger, pp. 97–100
  • Purcell, Susan (2009). "The Law of Hobson-Jobson". English Today. 25 (01): 60–64. doi:10.1017/S0266078409000108. Retrieved 2011-05-12.
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