Mystery of the Nabob

Last week, the United States pondered the definition of a mysterious word which appeared on Twitter. My next mystery is also a based around a single word, but one which stems from many of our childhoods, not one which adds further confusion to the political offices of our country. To some, perhaps this word was never a mystery. But to those of you who, like me, always wondered here is the answer.

What is a nabob?

The classic, toe-tapper from Aladdin entitled “A Friend Like Me” includes this word. While the Genie sings, Aladdin nearly kisses him the form of a lovely, dancing girl. When the Genie turns back into himself and blushes at the stunned young man, he declares “You big nabob!” For most of my youth I assumed I was mishearing this word. To be perfectly honest, I just assumed Robin Williams was saying stuff to say stuff. I never thought too hard about what a “nanoo nanoo” could possibly be, so why would this be any different.

Then, the older I got the more I wondered because, even though Disney had the foresight to allow the late, great Mr. Williams improvise many of this lines, I doubted that they would allow complete nonsense into their big-budget animated feature.

Instead of wondering in vain, I recalled a tool which allows me to solve such problems within seconds – a dictionary! And by a dictionary, I was course mean, the internet! Did you think I was a Luddite?

It turns out a nabob is a person of “great wealth or importance” or a “provincial governor of the Mogul empire of India”. Many English men who made their fortune through the East India Company were referred to as nabobs. I could detail for you a history of the East India Company, but it’s a long story of economics and opium and cultural diffusion and far too few pirates (despite what movies will have you believe). By the nineteenth century, nabobs apparently were no longer the fashion and the word fell out of use, save for one bizarre time that Nixon’s vice president Spiro Agnew used it to describe people in the media.

When I looked up nabob on the Merriam-Webster website, it said that the word was in the bottom 40% of their internet traffic popularity, so maybe not as many of you have wondered about this as I have. All the same, mystery successfully solved. Now the only question which remains is do we want to bring it back? It could be our secret word that sounds insulting, but isn’t. For example, did you hear that the nabob tweeted the word covfefe?

Side note: Don’t look up “nanoo nanoo” on Urban Dictionary. Just . . . just don’t.