Hobson-Jobson or Hobson-Jobsonism is the process by which a foreign expression is altered to fit in with the speech and spelling patterns of the borrowing language, usually, but not always, English. For example, the term Hobson-Jobson itself is apparently an Anglo-Indian adaptation of the Shia Muslim cry "Ya Husan! Ya Husain!", used to mourn the deaths of Muhammad's grandsons.

The phrase entered the public domain with the publishing, in 1886, of the rather unwieldly-titled Hobson-Jobson, a glossary study of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases and of kindred terms, etymological, historical, geographical and discoursive. The equally unwieldy 1000+ page encyclopedic dictionary, compiled by Henry Yule and A. C. Burnell, provides an ethnographic and etymological overview of the process by which English is indigenized in South Asia through phonetic shift (apil from appeal, rasid from receipt), semantic shift (boy for waiter), and hybridization (brandy pani for brandy and water). The semantic example illustrates perfectly the reminder from Anthony Burgess in his foreword to the 1985 reprint that this process of change is often one in which the conquered modify the language of an invader.

Other examples: Sir Roger Dowler for the 18 century Indian prince Siraj-ud-Dawlah and juggernaut for the Sanskrit epithet Jagannatha, Lord of the World, an incarnation of the god Krishna. Though these are all from the Indian subcontinent, the process is obviously a universal one, and not confined to that geographical area. Mary Jane, Mary Warner, and Mary Jane Warner are all versions of the Spanish name for cannabis, marijuana or marihuana.

For lots of examples of Hobson-Jobsonism, check out the Hobson-Jobson dictionary online at

This term was brought to my attention by A.Word.A.Day, an invaluable source of ordinary and strange vocabulary.

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