A nice piece by Josephine Livingstone about one of my favorite works of lexicography, Hobson-Jobson, which I’ve cited a fair number of times here at LH and which I’ve consulted frequently in my handy Wordsworth Reference edition—a thousand pages in a nice compact paperback that easily fits in the hand. Of course, you don’t need to have a physical book at all now that Digital Dictionaries of South Asia has put it online so conveniently (see above link), but if you do want one (and why wouldn’t you?), I would urge you to get the whole thing and not the edition Livingstone reviews, which is cut down by half (“without cutting any good bits” my foot—it’s all good bits!). At any rate, what I found most interesting about the review is Livingstone’s squeamishness about the very words so entertainingly recorded in the dictionary and the very entertainment to be derived from them:
There is something jolly and old-fashioned about this book which will appeal to the trivia-loving, moustache-twirling, Eats, Shoots and Leaves-owning, tea-dance-attending, Waugh-quoting pedant… I’m not suggesting that there is anything dubious about being interested in the etymology of “shampoo” or “sherbet” … But it is the case that patriotism and the vintage aesthetic feed off one another. If we are lazy about our enthusiasm for the British past, especially when it all starts looking a bit Henry Yule, then we risk forgetting about the nasty, violent bits. … “Hobson-Jobson” is a sweet rhyming term, and, like “pukka,” it means something. But it is also a pretty disrespectful bastardisation of a real religious practice.
Livingstone went to college in the ’90s, and I guess it shows. [She wrote to correct me—she actually got her BA in 2010.] Me, I roll my eyes at the idea that we must use even such harmless artifacts of an earlier era to parade our purportedly greater wisdom and tolerance and rub the nineteenth century’s sins in its insensible face. I really think we can enjoy words like “pukka” without running the risk of turning into pukka sahibs. (Thanks for the link, Paul!)