It was written by Henry Yule and Arthur C. Burnell and first published in 1886. Burnell had died before the work was finished, and most of it was finished by Yule, who however deeply acknowledges Burnell's contributions. A subsequent edition was edited by William Crooke in 1903, with extra quotations and an index added. The first and second editions are collector's items, though otherwise the second edition is widely available in numerous facsimile reprints.
In Anglo-Indian English, the term Hobson-Jobson referred to any festival or entertainment, but especially ceremonies of the Mourning of Muharram. In origin the term is a corruption by British soldiers of "Yā Ḥasan! Yā Ḥosain!" which is repeatedly cried by Shia Muslims as they beat their chests throughout the procession of the Muharram. Yule and Burnell were looking for a catchy title for their dictionary and decided upon this as it was a "typical and delightful example" of the type of the highly domesticated words in the dictionary and at the same time conveyed "a veiled intimation of dual authorship".
The dictionary has over 2,000 entries, generally with citations from literary sources, many of which date to the first European contact with the Indian subcontinent, frequently in other non-English European languages. Most entries also have etymological notes.