What I had never realised is that in the 1870s two men, Arthur Burnell and Colonel Henry Yule, documented all those words of Asian origin which English had acquired. Sadly Burnell died before the 14 years project was completed, but since its publication Hobson-Jobson: A glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases, and of kindred terms etymological, historical, geographical and discursive has never been out of print.
And now there's to be a new edition of the 1000 page work; it is being prepared for the OUP by Dr Kate Teltscher of Roehampton University.
The BBC News item about this lists over 50 well known words we acquired from India and includes these wonderful lines from Tom Stoppard's play Indian Ink:
Flora: While having tiffin on the veranda of my bungalow I spilled kedgeree on my dungarees and had to go to the gymkhana in my pyjamas looking like a coolie.[And even then amok is Mandalay!]
Nirad: I was buying chutney in the bazaar when a thug who had escaped from the chokey ran amok and killed a box-wallah for his loot, creating a hullabaloo and landing himself in the mulligatawny.
OK, the lines are a bit contrived but they do go to show just how big an influence the Raj had on our culture. And it's not just words and foods (like chilli, curry, piccalilli, mulligatawny and IPA) but as this list of words used in the BBC News item shows it pervades our whole culture.
Sure there were many things wrong with the British Raj, but isn't that just the most superb set of words?! To whet your appetite even further here are a handful of the original Hobson-Jobson definitions:
Kedgeree: A dish of seasoned rice. "A mess of rice, cooked with butter and dal and flavoured with a little spice and shred onion".Isn't it also interesting how the meanings have changed over the years. Notice that there is no mention of fish or eggs in kedgeree, and shampoo has nothing specific to to with hair!
Shampoo: To "knead and press the muscles with the view of relieving fatigue".
Pyjamas: A "pair of loose drawers or trousers, tied round the waist".
Gymkhana: "It is applied to a place of public resort at a station, where the needful facilities for athletics and games of sorts are provided".
Veranda: "An open pillared gallery round a house".
I feel some book-buying coming on.