Y is for Henry Yule

This is my contribution to Round Thirteen of ABC Wednesday. I am focusing on people for the fourth time, some famous, some infamous and some half-forgotten, although I am worried that I may have exhausted some letters of the alphabet, but I’ll see how it goes!

Henry YuleWith a name like Yule you could be forgiven for thinking that this is yet another festive ABC Wednesday entry, but my Henry Yule had little to do with Christmas.

He was the Victorian geographer, Orientalist and travel writer who jointly compiled the first Anglo-Indian dictionary of words loaned to the English language and one that has never been out of print.

The Yules were originally an East Lothian farming family in Scotland. The name is likely to be of Scandinavian origin, as I mentioned last week.

Henry Yule was born in Inveresk, near Edinburgh 1820, the son of Major William Yule, the translator of the Apothegms of Ali the son of Abu Talib which he had privately printed in 1832.

Henry YuleHenry Yule was educated at Edinburgh high school and briefly at University College London before entering the Addiscombe Military Seminary and then the Royal Engineers Establishment before joining the Bengal Engineers in 1840.

His first posting was in the Khasi Hills in Assam, India, to help establish transport of coal to the plains and where his fascination with India and its people began. Yule served in both Sikh Wars, but returned to live in Edinburgh in 1848, lecturing at the Scottish Military Academy.

Yule went east again in 1852, working in Arakan and Burma before retiring in 1862 to concentrate on his writing which included Cathay and the Way Thither in 1866, and the Book of Marco Polo in 1871, for which he received the gold medal of the Royal Geographical Society

But Yule’s most famous work was the one he compiled with Arthur Burnell called the A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases, and of Kindred Terms, Etymological, Historical, Geographical and Discursive, a dictionary of Anglo-Indian words and terms entered the language during the British rule of India.

Hobson JobsonNot the snappiest title, of course, and Yule knew this so he gave it an easier handle of Hobson-Jobson, a phrase which refers to any festival or entertainment, but especially ceremonies of the Mourning of Muharram.

The term is a corruption of ‘Yā Ḥasan! Yā Ḥosain!’ which is repeatedly cried by Shia Muslims throughout the procession of the Muharram. British soldiers then converted this to Hosseen Gosseen, Hossy Gossy, Hossein Jossen, and ultimately Hobson-Jobson.

Yule and Burnell chose Hobson-Jobson as it was a ‘typical and delightful example’ of the type of highly domesticated words in the dictionary and at the same time conveyed ‘a veiled intimation of dual authorship’. But it was contentious then and since.

Hobson JobsonHobson and Jobson were stock characters in Victorian times, a pair of yokels, clowns, or idiots, so the title had negative associations being at best self-deprecatory on the part of the authors, suggesting themselves a pair of idiots. Reviewers reacted negatively to the title, praising the book but deeming the title inappropriate.

Yule anticipated this reaction and kept the title secret even from the publisher until shortly before publication.

It has since given rise to the Hobson-Jobson Law used in linguistics to refer to the process of phonological change by which loanwords are adapted to the phonology of the new language.

Yule’s book remains in print and lists the many words and phrases borrowed from Hindi and which we are still familiar with today. Words such as avatar, bungalow, bandanna, bottle, cheetah, dingy, juggernaut, lantern, pyjamas, shawl, shampoo, swastika and typhoon. Not forgetting Y for yoga.

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3 comments… Add yours
  • a spirit of simplicity 1st January 2014

    very interesting and informative. He seems like he led a rather interesting life.

  • Richie 1st January 2014

    I enjoy learning new things, and I certainly had never heard of Henry Yule before. Happy New Year from An Arkie’s Musings

  • Roger Green 1st January 2014

    Your clever finds each week is always entertaining, informative and fascinating!


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