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Customer Review

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but Dry History of English Words from India, 2 Oct. 2013
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This review is from: Hobson-Jobson: The Definitive Glossary of British India (Hardcover)
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Publishers used to think that etymology was a dry dusty and academic subject until books by writers such as Michael Quinion showed that there was a real appetite for finding the true origins of the words and phrases we used - unthinkingly - everyday. Doubtless inspired by the success of his books and others of a similar ilk, 'Hobson Jobson' is the republication of a Victorian dictionary of words from India, Asia and the East.

The book is densely packed with words and their meanings and how these have changed over time. Some are fascinating. The phrase 'a muck' (as in "to run amok") has a convoluted history: it is traced to Malaya and to Malabar. It appears to derive either from a bizarre form of suicidal rage or refer to a caste of shaven headed berserk warriors. The entry gives lengthy quotations showing the history of the use of the word in English (and at times other european languages); these themselves take up a few pages of closely typed text.

Its use of very extensive quotations to trace the use of a word make this a very comprehensive guide. On the other hand, it also tends to make the book less attractive to the general reader and more a work for scholars and academics. The joy of a writer such as Quinion is that his books are both entertaining and informative. Here the interest only really lies in the content. Whilst I might find an entry describing a word I know and am interested in enjoyable to read, I did not find myself drawn to read other entries in the way that a more engaging text might lead you to.

A linked problem is that, whilst some of the words may have been in use in 1886, when first published, they have dropped out of common usage now. In the UK few would use the word 'Hing' to describe the spice Asafoetida. It takes some effort to work out that that is what the entry is even about.

The title 'Hobson Jobson' comes from another term covered here but now sadly out of use - the name of "a native festal excitement". It comes from the misheard rendering of the cry 'Ya Hassan! Ya Hosain!', apparently, which would have been accompanied by the chanters beating on their chests and a great procession. It sounds enormous fun. Sadly, this book, whilst not without enjoyment, will not be greeted by many quite so enthusiastically.
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Reviewer

wolf
(VINE VOICE)   

Location: East Midlands, UK

Top Reviewer Ranking: 5,254