What is Hobson-Jobson?

It’s a book about words, society, and culture among Britons living in India in the late 1800s. Many words that we use today were documented for the first time in its pages. Which words are we still using? And why is this book so popular more than 100 years on?

Linguist Daniel Midgley makes a hullabaloo on this episode of Talk the Talk.


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We’re back from our two-week break after Radiothon, and our first show back is a fun one. It’s about a book called Hobson-Jobson, and it’s a dictionary of Anglo-Indian words from the late 1800s. Already you’re bored. But don’t be like that, because this book is really fun! It’s got stories, both droll and hair-raising.

There’s also a bit about the upcoming elections, and while we don’t usually go political, there are a few right-wing parties that have taken up the English-Only flag, and this one lands right in my ballpark. Have a listen.

And here’s a little bonus aside that we didn’t keep in the show. Ben is wondering whether he should be that guy who says foreign words with a foreign accent. I think it’s a great question.


Show notes

First up: a worrying English-Only movement in Australia among right-wing fascist parties

Australian Voice
http://av.org.au/voice/

One Nation
http://www.onenation.com.au/policies/policies_immigration.html

According to the 2011 Australian Census, immigrants do great at learning English.
http://www.abs.gov.au/websitedbs/censushome.nsf/home/CO-60

A BBC article about Hobson-Jobson that caught my attention
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18796493

And Ben Zimmer’s take on it.
http://www.visualthesaurus.com/cm/wordroutes/the-story-behind-hobson-jobson/

And the full scan, so you can read it yourself
http://archive.org/stream/hobsonjobsonbein00yuleuoft#page/16/mode/2up

There were some words we didn’t get to. How about ‘gymkhana’? Probably backformed from ‘gend-khana’, and the British substituted ‘gym’ for ‘gend’.
http://www.thefreedictionary.com/gymkhana

‘Gecko’ is probably Malay, another language in the area.
http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=gecko

Why do we say “I don’t give a damn”? I almost wish I hadn’t asked.

The Online Etymological Dictionary isn’t convinced about Yule and Burnell’s ‘damree’ (small coin) explanation.
http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=tinker&allowed_in_frame=0

It’s almost certainly not a ‘dam’ made of dough that a tinker would use to keep solder from flowing away.
http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/tinker’s_damn

World Wide Words has it about right, I think.
http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-tin1.htm

So does the Phrase Finder.
http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/tinkers-damn.html

Thomas Jefferson once wrote about “giving a curse”, so I think that just about settles it.
http://www.grammarphobia.com/blog/2010/11/tinker.html


Show tunes

‘Young’ by the Paper Kites
from the album States

‘Nine Lives’ by Midnight Juggernauts
from the album Dystopia