NABOB/NAWAB.

I came across a reference to the Nawab of Oudh, wondered what exactly a nawab was, and thought “this is exactly the sort of thing Hobson-Jobson specializes in.” So I looked it up, and it wasn’t there. “It has to be there,” thought I, and tried possible alternate spellings: newab? nuwab? Nothing. Flipping through the book, I found it—under NABOB. Well, of course! In theory, I knew nabob was from nawab, but they occur in such different contexts and are pronounced so differently it’s hard to keep it in my head. Anyway, let Hobson-Jobson tell the story:

NABÓB (p. 610) , s. Port. Nababo, and Fr. Nabab, from Hind. Nawab, which is the Ar. pl. of sing. Nayab (see NAIB), ‘a deputy,’ and was applied in a singular sense* to a delegate of the supreme chief, viz. to a Viceroy or chief Governor under the Great Mogul, e.g. the Nawab of Surat, the Nawab of Oudh, the Nawab of Arcot, the Nawab Nazim of Bengal. From this use it became a title of rank without necessarily having any office attached. It is now a title occasionally conferred, like a peerage, on Mahommedan gentlemen of distinetion and good service, as Rai and Raja are upon Hindus.
Nabob is used in two ways: (a) simply as a corruption and representative of Nawab. We get it direct from the Port. nababo, see quotation from Bluteau below. (b) It began to be applied in the 18th century, when the transactions of Clive made the epithet familiar in England, to Anglo-Indians who returned with fortunes from the East; and Foote’s play of ‘The Nabob’ (Nabob) (1768) aided in giving general currency to the word in this sense.
*Dozy says (2nd ed. 323) that the plural form has been adopted by mistake. Wilson says ‘honorifically.’ Possibly in this and other like cases it came from popular misunderstanding of the Arabic plurals. So we have omra, i.e. umara, pl. of amir used singularly and forming a plural umrayan. (See also OMLAH and MEHAUL.)

There are, of course, the usual raft of citations, which are half the fun of H-J.

Comments

  1. aldiboronti says:

    Edward Lear demands to be heard on this one:
    Who or why, or which, or what,
    Is the Akond of Swat?
    Is he tall or short, or dark or fair?
    Does he sit on a stool or a sofa or chair,
    or SQUAT,
    The Akond of Swat?
    Is he wise or foolish, young or old?
    Does he drink his soup and his coffee cold,
    or HOT,
    The Akond of Swat?
    Does he sing or whistle, jabber or talk
    And when riding abroad does he gallop or walk,
    or TROT,
    The Akond of Swat?
    And so on ……
    http://ingeb.org/songs/whoorwhy.html

  2. gluepot says:

    And let us not forget Richard Nixon’s Vice President Spiro Agnew’s “Nabobs of Negativity,” referring to Vietnam War protesters.

  3. Next up: The Rann of Kutch (who is not a person, however).
    Yule of Hobson-Jobson wrote the best version of Marco Polo a century ago. Lots of side trips, for example on Venetian boat-building. For scholarly purposes it’s been superseded by Pelliot’s translation and notes, but they’re all out of print. Pelliot’s notes are unreadable except by LH-type (Zizka-type) fanatics: e.g., fifty pages on the words for “cotton” in various languages over many centuries.

  4. I’ll have to get hold of that — sounds like many hours of fun.

  5. I believe William Safire’s phrase was actually “nattering nabobs of negativism”.

  6. If I remember correctly, many languages in that part of the world have allophones of /w/ which include bilateral fricatives. From there it ain’t far to a bilateral stop as a second allophone. No?

  7. Helma Dik says:

    You say
    “I came across a reference to the Nawab of Oudh, wondered what exactly a nawab was, and thought “this is exactly the sort of thing Hobson-Jobson (with link to DSAL) specializes in.” So I looked it up, and it wasn’t there. “It has to be there,” thought I, and tried possible alternate spellings: newab? nuwab? Nothing. Flipping through the book, I found it—under NABOB. ”
    At the DSAL site, you should simply use the second search box ‘search for words in entire dictionary’ as opposed to ‘search for entry words’. No more flipping needed! Just scroll down the search results. Enjoy ‘hackery’ as one of the other search results:-)

  8. Thanks! As it happens, though, I was flipping through the actual book at the time.

  9. david jobson says:

    Personally, I have always been bothered by people named Hobson: a corruption of sound that causes confusion, my heart screams. And just last night, I had to clarify that I pronounce Jobson in a secular manner and distance myself from some nut who thought he was being tested by God.
    I am also trying to enocurage the use of the Saanich language among some friends involved with restoration of a park/village site (Coastal Salish language near Victoria, British Columbia) with a Hobson-Jobson of a few words.

  10. I’m a year late on this thread, but what can you do. In reply to sara: You’re right, it ISN’T that far to a bilabial stop. In many parts of India, especially in the Eastern Hindi region and Bengal, the bilabial stop and fricative are merged. Thus you get names like Shib (‘Shiva’), where in other regions you would get Shiv (with a bilabial fricative). Spanish too has merged the two sounds IIRC.

Speak Your Mind

*