Origin or Derivation of the Word 'Hobbit'?

evilsprout

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#1
Hallo everyone, I'm back again!

JRR Tolkein was a very fastidious fella, some may say unkindly a little bit sad, and had a complex etymology of every name of a person or place in the Middle Earth sagas. Every name means something in some language or another, much like in the real world.

The word "Hobbit" does not fit so well into this. The whole saga was inspired by Tolkein, as a teacher, jotting down the words "'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit" for no apparent reason, as if from nowhere.

He eventually fitted it into his grand scheme of things by deciding it came from Old English "hol byldan", roughly 'to build a hole'. However he truly never knew where he got it from, and if it was some cryptic memory he had.

In 1938 someone wrote to the Observer, saying they remembered a fairy tale called 'The Hobbit' from at least 1904. And the online Tolkein resource The Encylopedia of Arda (from which I got all this info) states:

Since this article was written, we've discovered that the name 'hobbit' goes back far further than even Tolkien suspected. We're indebted to Mark Blanton for sending along a long list of magical beings collected by a certain Michael Aislabie Denham before the year 1859. In the middle of this list, among the 'boggleboes', 'freiths' and 'wirrikows' lies the term 'hobbits'. Even more remarkably, the list predates even the nineteenth century - it was apparently taken from an even earlier work, Discovery of Witchcraft, dated 1584.
So is this a coincidence, a case of cryptamnesia from a fairy tail Tolkein heard of and forgot, or some long forgotten supernatural being tunneling its ways into the mind of a bored author?

Source: http://www.glyphweb.com/arda/h/hobbits.html
 

mejane

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#2
Welcome back, sprouty :)

I'm tempted to ask whether the etymology of many of the other names in Tolkein's mythology - of which LOTR is only a very small part - were also worked out after the fact, as it were? As much as I'd like to think that Tolkein had somehow tapped into the true history of the earth and that hobbits really existed, or still exist, alas I think cryptamnesia (great word!) is probably the best explanation.

On the other hand, we do have some very large rabbit holes around these parts ;)

Jane.
 

JamesWhitehead

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#3
I had associated hob-goblins with the hearth but Skeat suggests
at least two other derivations. The word hob for the fireplace itself
was related to hump, a raised place, so suggestive of a deformed
being.

More likely, though, was the definition of Hob as a clown, rustic or
fairy. Hob, like Hodge, was a common country name, shortened from
Robin, as Hodge was from Roger.

Spenser has a character Hobbinoll in his Shepheardes Calender.

The character he converses with in April is called Thenot, so the
terminal T isn't hard to find.

Oh and wb, Sprout. :)
 

stu neville

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#5
Yep - according to Webster (1913)

Hob\, n. [Orig. an abbrev. of Robin, Robert; Robin
Goodfellow a celebrated fairy, or domestic spirit. Cf.
{Hobgoblin}, and see {Robin}. ]
1. A fairy; a sprite; an elf. [Obs.]

as for Orc

Orc - any of various whales, such as the killer and grampus

2 a mythical monster

[ETYMOLOGY: 16th Century: via Latin orca, perhaps from Greek orux whale]

Elves, Wizards and Dwarves were obviously already well known as terms, though TBH I'd always imagined the former to be little people, rather than man-sized.
 

rynner2

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#6
IIRC, Tolkien nicked the word Hobbit from an essay submitted by one of his students.

I thought of googling for some confirmation, but can you imagine how many pages 'Tolkien, hobbit' turns up! :D

PS: Googling on 'the word Hobbit' turns up an interesting selection
 

rynner2

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#7
1. The Unconscious Origin of Hobbit

Tolkien once said of his stories that they grow "like a seed in the dark out of the leaf-mould of the mind," adding that his own personal "compost-heap" was made "largely of linguistic matter." The word hobbit came out of that inner ferment. It was not a piece of accidental trivia vaguely connected with rabbit or hobby (as some have thought), and it was not a deliberate, consciously chosen name. It came to Tolkien in a rare moment of spontaneous intuition. Tolkien subsequently developed that intuition into one of the most unusual uses of philology in literature. He was busy grading examination papers when the word popped into his mind, not alone but as part of a whole sentence:(1)

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

Tolkien trusted his philological intuition. When a name occurred to him in this manner, he usually gave it a second look. And this case was unusual in that an entire sentence was involved, not just a single name. So, even though he had formed no idea of a story or of any of its characters, he said of the occasion, "Eventually I thought I'd better find out what hobbits were like." For Tolkien the philologist, this meant something different from the ordinary course. Instead of giving imagination a free rein, Tolkien turned to research. He would subject such names to a "severe philological scrutiny." If a name had little philological interest, he was not disposed to use it.(2)

Tolkien's philological scrutiny of In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit turned out to be uncommonly productive. The way in which he eventually based a complex, rich, yet accessible story upon an etymological ground may be something unique in literature. Yet there are no published remarks by Tolkien about the research he must have undertaken and its relation to the story of the hobbit.

Here, however, a point of clarification is needed. There is a kind of fictional account of the origin of hobbit, which appears in the text and appendices of Tolkien's trilogy The Lord of the Rings. Fictionally, Tolkien characterizes himself not as author, but as translator of ancient manuscripts dating back to the Elder Days. In those manuscripts (the story goes) the word used by hobbits to refer to themselves is not hobbit at all, but kuduk, an odd-sounding expression supposed to derive from a yet older term originating in the land of Rohan and used to apply to hobbit-kind: kud-dukan, meaning "hole dweller."

Now Tolkien needed "English" words to translate kud-dukan and kuduk. Wishing to preserve the sense that kuduk is a "worn-down" form of kud-dukan, Tolkien first made up an "Old English" sounding word, holbytla (for hole-builder), as his "translation" of kud-dukan. Then he invented hobbit to represent a "worn-down" or modern English version of holbytla.(3).
from this website:
http://www.21stcenturyradio.com/articles/1025048.html
 
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Anonymous

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#8
Look, I'm used to risking being resoundingly beaten to death with my ill-judged comments but please!

The Lord of the Rings is just so interminably boring and frustrating in turns. Twice now I have battled to get to the end and the book slips from my weakened fingers as I loll in dispair or else it needs to be sellotaped together from the force with which I've hurled it across the room.

The film corrected many faults of the book (the pace) which i am so grateful for because I LOVE the story behind the book but the novel itself is shite! Okay he's under threat, he hangs around a few months 'preparing things' (What exactly) then they go through a series of clumsy and foolishly protracted escapades that only draw attention to themselves, etc etc. 'Ooh, dear, didn't realise that nasty was there...yes I remember now...ho de hum, lets just stay here for a few months, is this important to the plot...no just supposedly rich in character, ho ho' etc etc.

The hobbit is cool and well written, well paced, exciting, well reasoned and lucid with memorable images that come to you years after finishing the book - FANTASTIC. The attention to detail is appreciated in the maps and the close correlation with the text but all the rune stuff and the name etymologies is surely just plain anally retentive and a bit - 'I AM a serious writer you know, I'm intelligent and will prove it'.

Why didn't they make The Hobbit first? It's definitely superior to LOTR.
 

evilsprout

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#10
I've got to admit, Chant, that although I really like LOTR, I agree that the pacing's absolutely annoying at times. Months can pass in one page, whereas elsewhere it takes about five gazillion words for the characters to walk a metre or two. And what's with all the bloody singing?!!! :rolleyes:
 
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Anonymous

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#11
Even if the stories boring, you have to admit- the extent Tolkien went to developing his mythology is amazing. You have to admire that. And admit its a little freaky.

Just curious- are any of the languages he invented full-fledged? With complete grammer rules and plenty of vocabulary? I mean, you hear about people speaking Klingon, but what about Elfish?

Okay, found myanswer.

As someone who made their own langauge once, even *I* am a little creeped out.
 

Imperial_Call

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#12
I always liked the idea that Middle-Earth was a real place ... Tolkein developed an awful lot of background information, including two different Elfish languages, which stikes me as a bit OTT for something that is basically a fairy story for kids ... it's not like The Brother's Grimm did all that stuff they just once upon a time-d and that was it!
 

JamesWhitehead

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#13
The Grimms aren't a very good example of spontaneous
composition, Lobelia: they collected their stories and had
a very scholarly interest in traditions. In fact, Jakob Grimm's
work on consonant shifts formed the basis of modern
linguistics, though it was called philology at the time. :)
 

Imperial_Call

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#14
OK James, that's me being vague and incomprehensible again, what I meant was you read a Brother's Grimm story, there's no maps; appendices; index to characters, creatures, places etc etc etc these things do some with Tolkein's stuff ...

I'll try and be more precise in my postings in future
 

The_Discordian

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#15
IIRC, the Book "Tolkein: Author of the Century" by Tom Shippey (sp?) goes into the etymology of tolkein's names quite a bit, and this is mentioned somewhere. Now if I can find the bastard who borrowed my copy...
 

TheGord

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#16
Tokein Religion.

Ive been wondering for some time if it would be possible to start a religion or creed (similar to the now-established "jedi" faith) based on the article of faith that the events portrayed in Tolkiens Middle - Earth are "real" on some level.....

I know you'd be up against it as there is no religion (other than veneration of the Valar) in Middle Earth to base it on.

Does anyone have any ideas on what form this religion could take?



P.s. L Ron Hubbard is on record as saying that starting a religion would be the best way to get rich/have fun!
 

Yithian

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#17
Re: Tokein Religion.

TheGord said:
Does anyone have any ideas on what form this religion could take?
Well, 'religious' is tricky but The middle earth stories are highly existentialist, in fact i always thought they could be reworked into film noir beautifully. Explore that notion if you like...:)

edit:

Gandalf: You always have a very smooth explanation....
Sauruman: What do you want me to do — learn to stutter?


Boromir [gesturing to the ring]: What's that Frodo?
Frodo: The, uh, the stuff that dreams are made of.


Surely?
 

TheGord

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#18
Film noir

I see what you mean.... In fact I was just thinking that it might suit a being somewhere between a philosophical "way" and a spiritual "path".


Do not under any circumstances let the above infer that I know what I'm talking about!:confused:
 
A

Anonymous

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#19
Tolkien almost certainly drew upon Blake's 'Orc' in his America: A Prophecy (from Latin orcus - hell) in creating Sauron's drones - in both works they representthe modern, industrial age, breaking violently and unsentimentally with the old order - the difference being that Blake saw his symbolic 'Orc' as a positive form of creative destruction - the spirit of energy and rebellion, whereas Tolkien saw in his Orcs the characterisation of everything that threatened his world, social class and ruralist values - loutish oiks that eat flesh, delight in violence and ruin and 'don' even tawrk propah.'

Tolkien: 'How ghastly! And did you HEAR their diction? Dropping their haitches and using the glottal stop...one feels faint just listening to it...pass the civet, Lewis old bean, there's a good chap, and do tell me more about this Narnia thing...'

quite.

Must say, I have varying patience for the whole Middle Earth thing - all of these genealogies, maps, glossaries, etc etc ad infinitum - very entertaining, but I was never sure to what end...which is why I think the Grimm tales are better pieces of writing - they are in and of themselves, and do not need all that background reading and

- oh, is THAT the exit? Thanks for so politely pointing that out and will you please stop pelting me with those tomatoes, ta...

(Exits hurriedly)
 

TheGord

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#20
YOU are obviously not mentally advanced enough to comprehend the Way of the er.... hobbit, maybe.

Anyway, outside, now!:hmph:
 
A

Anonymous

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#21
Aha! A punch up - that's more like it...

...right, how shall we do this?

Hobbit fashion? You can get a sack of taters and shoot them at me with a big catapult , while I try and make Greek fire with a bottle of Olq Winyards?

Or gollum-fashion - grab each other by the throat, and wrestle til the other stops breathing? :cross eye
 

TheGord

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#22
Fight!Fight!

How about this - both of us read The Book of Lost Tales, and all the other interminable stuff Christopher Tolkein published out of his fathers waste paper basket, and the last one to fall unconscious wins?:madeyes:
 

TheGord

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#24
No contest.

In summary, Tolkien was an extremely learned man who used his vast knowledge of British and European History and Mythology to turn out a superby crafted tale. Not in any modern formulaic way, but by allowing all the old tales and myths to germinate in his mind until they turned out onto the page.

Not content with merely telling the story, first he created an entire world with its own history going all the way back to a creation, for the story to "live" in.

In this way, many themes, words, and even creatures and characters seem familiar to us, even when encountering them for the first time.

All of this is so near to being real that, somewhere, it must exist

I've gone off on one again havent I......;)
 

Breakfastologist

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#25
Tolkien almost certainly drew upon Blake's 'Orc' in his America: A Prophecy (from Latin orcus - hell) in creating Sauron's drones ...
Or perhaps he was a professor of languages and just borrowed the italian word for "elf"?
 
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Anonymous

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#26
Good point, and I don't doubt the lift at all - But I don't see a need - or a case- for an either-or here. Tolkien was well versed in Blake, and the similarities in the use of 'Orc' in both suggests an influence - remember, part of Tolkien's 'agenda' (probably not as strong as that though) is critical of what the industrial revolution, modern political ideologies etc, have done to the people and the country. I should point out that I am not the only person to say this - previous critics and biographers of Tolkien have drawn upon Tolkien's relationship to Blake's work.

The Italian Orc for elf also stems from 'Orcus' - which is also the root of the french 'Ogre'. Orcus was used to denote the underworld, but also the God of the Underworld. in European mythology in general, these derivations were used for any creature seen to emanate from the under or netherworlds - in Italian folklore elves were nasty, sinister creatures (as were the Scottish redcaps) that tempted and decieved humans - pretty 'hellish' in fact.

Whatever my love-hate relationship with Tolkien (erring more towards love at the moment, actually), as a scholar he was remarkable in the way he could draw strands together and reinvent them- I'm pretty sure he was striking out at all sorts of resonances in his version of the 'Orcs'.
 

rynner2

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#27
Crediton, Devon

There were not many Gandalfs, Hobbits, archers of the skill of Legolas or heroes like Aragon ordering pints at the bar of the General Sir Redvers Buller pub, while the local paper had had no reports of Dark Riders - not yet anyway.

But a newly published book, called The Real Middle Earth, examines the possibility that Tolkien's mythical world probably bore a strong resemblance to how Dark Ages people envisaged life. The author, Professor Brian Bates, suggests Tolkien - who is known to have holidayed in Devon - created fantasy from Dark Ages reality and uses Crediton to illustrate his case.

In the book, Professor Bates, of Brighton University, analyses the myth of the formidable Grendel, which grew up around Crediton.

"The bellowing, man-eating Grendel, immortalised in the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf, was a bog-dwelling monster," he said, adding: "We know the people of Crediton were terrified of him because his lair, Grendel's Pit, is mentioned in an 8th century document signed by Aethelheard, King of the Saxons, granting land for the building of a monastery."

Professor Bates has seen the old map which marks Grendel's Pit as being just outside the town, not far from Luha's tree and Dodda's Ridge - landmarks no longer on the local Tourist Information map and now unknown to the local populace.

"Never heard of it," admitted 90-year-old retired farmer Tom Mortimer. "I have never been much anywhere but here, and I've heard some funny tales in my time, but I never heard that one. As for folk in the town looking like this Gandalf fellow or these Hobbits from the book, it makes no sense. We have short folk, but every town does."

His mate, Sid Loosemoore, 83, said: "The only monsters we get are the kids from the school - and they grow out of it. It's all a mystery to me."

Vera Kempson, who like her fellow diner at the Crediton Age Concern lunch, Rose Lee, insisted she was 21, said: "I think it's just a fairy tale. If you want real scary stories you have to go to Cornwall."

Mrs Lee agreed, saying: "It's rubbish." But Dorothy Glover was not so sure. She said: "There is a story of a ghost near here who appears at the top of the stairs dressed entirely as a Scotsman. Connie knows all about that, but she's moved to Bideford now. There's some strange things about, there's no denying it."

Professor Bates contends that fire-breathing dragons, giants, dwarves and elvish spirits were very much in the human consciousness in the Dark Ages.

He said: "The Grendel's Pits of Middle-earth maps were unwelcome landmarks - the presence of these beasts must have issued from them like a menacing mist from a swamp."

Professor Bates, who teaches Shamanic Consciousness, is the author of five books, including the Human Face, co-written with Fawlty Towers star John Cleese.

The Real Middle Earth is published by Sidgwick & Jackson at £18.99 and comes out as a Pan paperback on November 7.
http://www.thisisexeter.co.uk/displ...layContent&sourceNode=99871&contentPK=7316652
 

Timble2

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#28
Originally cited by Rynner

.......But a newly published book, called The Real Middle Earth, examines the possibility that Tolkien's mythical world probably bore a strong resemblance to how Dark Ages people envisaged life......
Oh, Gosh, we did not know that. Thank you for telling us.
:rolleyes:

I'm sorry, but this is hardly a great leap of the imagination given Tolkien's academic background. It's just a way of piggy-backing another book on Northern European mythology onto LoTR.
 
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Anonymous

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#29
Well my Russian tutor was convinced that the name of hte town Hobbiton from Holbeton which is a small village in Devon, (and they filmed a lot of Sense and Sensibility there) and we lived in Ermington the next village up the river.
 
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Anonymous

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#30
True Story

Teach in an inner city school with many refugee/ aslyum seeker kids. They are very varied in their life expieriences. One day a very squat, rather stumpy supply teacher from New Zealand came to fill in for a sick teacher. She was rather upset when a couple of the kids had asked her if she was a hobbit.
We intially thought the kids were being cheeky but when interviewed they were totally geniune in their questioning. You see, one consistant of this diverse kids is of course DVD's and they have all seen the LOTR movies, with "the making of "extras. They had assumed that as she was so small/squat/stumpy and from New Zealand that she was in fact a hobbit. These kids have english as an additional language and I guess may not of even had the term midget/dwarf, which she wasn't anyway. But you get the gist:blah:
 
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