Pyjamas did not exist until the 19th century. I’m not sure what people wore to bed in the 1700s, but it wasn’t pyjamas. Pyjamas by any other name may well have been as snug, but the fact remains: without the English in India, there would be no India in English. The best way to understand this story is to get your hands on a Hobson-Jobson.
~ How We Got Pukka, by Josephine Livingstone in Prospect Magazine, UK
I’d come across the Hobson-Jobson years ago in high school and promptly forgotten all about it. These days, though, etymology, for some reason, is fascinating. The origins of words and the journeys they’ve traveled to get to the contexts/cultures they’re used in today….. quite fascinating. For the full online Hobson-Jobson version, go here.
And, just for fun, try this Flavorwire article about 9 commonly-used words with unsavory histories. Who’d have thunk?
A selection of related books that I have on my shelves and enjoy dipping into from time to time:
1) Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States by Bill Bryson – he’s such a funny raconteur and makes this a very enjoyable and educational read at the same time. America, the perennial melting pot, has many countries and languages to thank for American English – not just the Brits. And, how entire new lexicons were created around Hollywood, the cowboy life, etc.
2) Forgotten English by Jeffrey Kacirk – This one is just a rich feast of sounds and visuals – usufruct, gorgayse, hudibras….. (no, I won’t give them away here, you’ll have to get the book).
3) A Dickens Glossary for American Readers by Fred Levit – I think even the Brits would need this rather than just American readers. Dickens used such delicious words – like Shakespeare, he had an extensive vocabulary and, where a word did not exist to communicate his exact meaning, no doubt, he made one up. His ingenuity, as a writer, of course, was in the fact that you could read his vivid imagery and still “get it” even with the odd word here and there. That said, this glossary is the most complete one ever, I believe.
4) British English A to Zed by Norman W. Schur – While there are many such guides now, Schur’s humor is what makes this one stand apart.
5) The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language by Christine Kenneally – I just ordered this per the excellent recommendation of Maria Popova @ brainpickings.org. If you really start getting into language and want to know what all those who seriously study its origins have discovered, this is THE book du jour.