Dipping into Fallon.

Last year Dick & Garlick had a couple of posts about what sounds like a delightful dictionary. Dipping into Fallon’s Dictionary begins:

S W Fallon’s A New Hindustani-English Dictionary (1879) is regarded as one of the most remarkable works of Indian lexicography. With its illustrations from folklore, proverbs, songs, and literature, it is a lot more than a mere dictionary: like that other great glossary of the colonial era, Hobson-Jobson, it carves up an entire culture and serves it up in tasty, chewable bits. Fallon took up the language of north India in the late 19th century as his field of study, the common colloquial speech which was then being thrust out of sight in official use as well as literature by an artificial written language of ‘stiff pompous words, strange Arabic sounds which have no meaning for the people, and the dull cold clay of Sanskrit forms’. As Ambarish Satwik writes in his column, to open Fallon is to ‘see the invisible stream that flows all around us, full of things we have left unsaid’:

On its pages is found the sap and wit of the north Indian vernacular: the common stock of allusions that once played in the minds and memories of its speakers and disseminators. Language that is both ordinary and heightened, rank and sweet, and lingers in the mind. To borrow from Kenneth Burke, language that brings out the thisness of that or the thatness of this.

In an article in Dawn, Rauf Parekh writes that Fallon knew the value of field research in lexicography. With the help of his native informants, he recorded the words and idioms used by women, and interviewed ordinary people to understand usage and pronunciation. In an aside, Parekh notes that this led Fallon to use lewd or taboo words ‘and he sort of developed a taste for such expressions’.

Fallon’s lack of prudery and his emphasis on descriptive rather than prescriptive lexicography is what sets him apart from most Hindi/Urdu lexicographers. It also makes his dictionary a great read. Satwik recommends a weekly dip into its pages, which I think is a most excellent idea. So here’s a first dubki into Fallon’s ocean of words […]

I’ll leave you to discover the delights of Ardor urinae at the link; the following week’s post was Dipping into Fallon – 2, where he cites the entry for “خايه/ khā’yā, n. m. 1. Membrum virile. […] 2. Testicles.” Lexicography can be a lot of fun.


  1. OK, no one seems to be eager to dip into Fallon (or maybe those who done the dipping are yet to return) so I decided to give it a try. The example for membrum virilie (anyone besides me have watched Rake?) is this

    Ūṅchā makān jiskā hai pach-khanā so āyā,
    Ūpar kā khan ṭapak-kar jab pānī nīche āyā,
    Us ne to apne ghar meṅ hai shor o gul machāyā,
    Muflis pukārte haiṅ jāne hamārā khāyā! Nazīr.

    Clear? Not for me. Google translate doesn’t have a clue either, but as a good student doesn’t admit it and thinks that spewing nonsense is a suitable substitution. Anyway, it determines the language – Hawaiian and gives the following rendition

    If you want to have a pach-khanā soāiā,
    If you do not have a khan ṭapak-kar jab,
    Us is to apne just like a shor of gul machāyā,
    Muflis is a guitar guitar guitar guitar!

    Which I interpret thusly

    If you want to have sex,
    But cannot get an erection,
    Do not use the Blue pill,
    Just keep playing guitar.

  2. Sounds good to me!

Speak Your Mind