For other uses, see Nabob (disambiguation).

A nabob /ˈnbɒb/ is an Anglo-Indian term for a conspicuously wealthy man who made his fortune in the Orient, especially in the Indian subcontinent. It also refers to an East India Company servant who had become wealthy through corrupt trade and other practices.[1][2][3]

Nabob literally means "deputy governor" or "viceroy" in the Mughal Empire rule of India. This title was later adopted by British vassals in India, such as Bengal, Oudh, and Arcot.[4][5][6][7]


The word is either a borrowing directly from Hindustani nawāb/navāb/nabāb (via Persian from Arabic nuwwāb), encountered during British colonial rule in India, or indirectly via Portuguese nababo. The Portuguese nababo is a possibility because the Portuguese developed a presence in India before the British.[5][7][8][9]

The word entered colloquial usage in England from 1612. Native Europeans used "nabob" to refer to those who returned from India after having made a fortune there.[5][7][8][9]


European usage

The European perception of a "nabob" was of a person who having become wealthy in a foreign country, often India or the Indian subcontinent, returned to Europe with considerable power and influence. In England, the name was applied to men who made fortunes working for the East India Company and, on their return home, used the wealth to purchase seats in Parliament.[4][6]

A common fear was that these individuals – the nabobs, their agents, and those who took their bribes – would use their wealth and influence to corrupt Parliament. The collapse of the Company's finances in 1772 due to bad administration, both in India and Britain, aroused public indignation towards the Company's activities and the behaviour of the Company's employees.[4]

This perception of the pernicious influence wielded by nabobs in both social and political life led to increased scrutiny of the Company. A number of prominent Company men underwent inquiries and impeachments on charges of corruption and misrule in India.[4] Warren Hastings, first Governor-General of India, was impeached in 1788 and acquitted in 1795 after a seven-year-long trial. Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive, MP for Shrewsbury, was forced to defend himself against charges brought against him in the House of Commons.[7][10]

Metaphorical usage in the United States

United States President Richard Nixon's vice-president, Spiro Agnew (1969–1974), known for his scathing criticisms of administration political opponents, once referred to them as "nattering nabobs of negativism" in a speech written by William Safire.[11] Comedian Minnie Pearl often told stories about her dimwitted Uncle Nabob which may have led to the use of "nabob" as a reference to a not very smart person.

Samuel Foote's 1772 play, The Nabob, was a comedy satirizing those who gained money from the East India Company.

See also


  1. An authentic copy of the correspondence in India – East India Company, Bengal (India). Supreme Council. J. Debrett. 1787. Retrieved 14 February 2012.
  2. "The East India Company and public opinion – Nabobs". Retrieved 14 February 2012.
  3. "British India 1763 – 1815". Retrieved 14 February 2012. Company paid lucrative dividends, and its servants (the so-called "nabobs") took fortunes from India
  4. 1 2 3 4 Related Information – Did you know?.
  5. 1 2 3 "nabobical – Word Origin & History – nabob". Retrieved 14 February 2012. 1612, "deputy governor in Mogul Empire," Anglo-Indian, from Hindi nabab, from Arabic nuwwab
  6. 1 2 "nawab, English nabob". Retrieved 14 February 2012.
  7. 1 2 3 4 "Nabob". Retrieved 14 February 2012.
  8. 1 2 "nabob (governor)". Retrieved 14 February 2012. Etymology:Hindi nawāb, nabāb, from Arabic nuwwāb, plural of nā'ib, deputy, active...
  9. 1 2 "nabob". Retrieved 14 February 2012. from Portuguese nababo or Spanish nabab, from Urdu; see also nawab
  10. "Tillman Nechtman, "Nabobs: Empire and Identity in Eighteenth-Century Britain" Cambridge University Press, 2010". Retrieved 14 February 2012.
  11. LANCE MORROW (30 September 1996). "Morrow, L. "Naysayer to the nattering nabobs."". Time. Retrieved 10 October 2011.
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