The following review will be of
greatest interest to people who share
my fascination with quirky tidbits from Eurasian history.
Henry Yule's four volumes on Marco Polo and the
other European travellers to the East are among my favorite scholarly
books, so even though I have no particular interest in Anglo-India, when I
found out that Hobson-Jobson was cheap and available, I snapped it
up. I found lots of stuff interesting to me, and anyone interested in the
histories of dress, textiles, horticulture, cuisine, ships and boats, or
coinage will also find a lot here.
Ordinary English words of Indian, Malay,
Persian, or Arabic origin
Bandanna, candy, carboy, cash, chit, cot,
cummerbund, dinghy, ghoul, loot, stevedore, tank. (And also gunny,
as in "gunny sack "-- an article which probably no longer exists).
The most surprising of these is "tank", which
comes from the Gujerati tānk'h, which means "reservoir". All
subsequent uses, including the military one, trace back to the Gujerati,
first attested in 1498.
Compound in the sense of "enclosure around a
house" comes from the Malay kampung, rather than being derived from
the French com + poner as the other senses of the word are.
Rare English dialect word unexpectedly
adopted into Hindi
Galleece, meaning "suspenders", from the
English "gallowses" or "galluses".
Words which you're probably wrong about
meant "massage" (possibly combined with prostitution), not just
does not refer to the so-called untouchables, outcastes, or Dalits, but to
the lowest castes within the caste system. The word
orangutang was never used by Malays to
refer to that animal, which they call mias; that meaning of the
term (which normally means "jungle people" or "savages") was introduced
into the Malay language by Westerners.
A word which Yule was probably wrong about
Contra Yule's suggestion, sackcloth probably
doesn't come from the Persian Sakkalat, although a version of the
Persian word is seen in Chaucer. The OED frequently used Yule's work, but did not pick up on this
Five Mongol words in use in British India
Daroga "a minor official" (from
darugachi, "a provincial governor"); oordoo, now Urdu
(from ordos, "center of government");
bagatur, "a loudmouthed bully" (from bagatur, "hero");
Tomaun "a coin worth 10,000 [nominal] dinars" (from
toman, "10,000"); nokar, "servant" (from
noker, "sworn companion, retainer"). The word bagatur
was used by William Makepeace Thackeray, who had Anglo-Indian family
connections (one of the later of whom, apparently, is today's most
notorious Hindu nationalist.)
However, Huzzara (now Hazara), the
name for the ethnic Mongols of Afghanistan, is not a Mongol word, though
it does trace back to the Mongols. It's the Persian word meaning
"thousand" and refers to a Mongol Persian socio-military unit of that
size. But the Mongol word would have been mingqan.
Some words with long histories
Even in the XIXc the Portuguese were called
Firinghee or "Franks", a word tracing back to the Crusades;
sometimes this word was used invidiously for all Europeans.
Yule (supported by the OED 1st ed.) claims that Druggerman (dragoman),
a word in many Middle Eastern and European languages meaning "translator",
can be traced back to Assyrian. (The OED also traces the common word
sack back to the Assyrian.)
Some interesting non-linguistic tidbits
Yule mentions witnessing synchronized flashing by
thousands of fireflies in a tree. He describes crocodiles snapping up
flying-foxes (bats) who are flying close to the river surface to dip up water
with their tongues. He describes a peculiar masochistic form of worship
almost identical the the sundance of the plains Native Americans. He
briefly mentions the devadāsī temple prostitutes, of
South India. And Yule speculates,
as I have, that the
similiarities in name and form between the Mediterranian Turkish caique
and the Inuit kayak, might mean that there is a real historical
relationship between the two boats.
Books by Henry Yule
Yule's translation is still the place to start
for Marco Polo. He has lots of supplementary material about the Venetian
navy, the military uses of music during the period, etc., etc. Pelliot's
translation and Notes on Marco Polo should have superseded Yule,
but they are almost impossible to find, and the Notes are also
almost impossible to read.
Cathay and the Way Thither collects a lot of fascinating stuff, but
much of it has since come out in significantly better editions.
Hobson-Jobson: 1000 pages for $7.99
of Marco Polo, 3rd revised edition: 2 vols, 1300 pages for $48.00
Cathay and the Way Thither: 2 vols., 1000 pages for $40.00
(Altogether, 3300 pages for less than $100.00: 33
pages for a dollar.)
I am emersonj at gmail dot com.
Original materials copyright John J