The word Hobbit was soon to be as much a magical word for Professor Tolkien as Hocus-Pocus was for any fairy-tale magician. In fact, Hobbit was the most important single word that ever inspired him to invent a story. (David Day, The Hobbit Companion)
A short enough word, simple and unsuspicious. Is this how it all began for Tolkien many years ago? Looking at it, as a word in and of itself, and as a prefix to many other words, we can find a wealth of meaning and inspiration that Tolkien himself was almost certainly aware of when creating the world of The Shire and beyond.
A word in existence long before Tolkien took it for his own purposes, a Hob was a fairy, an elf, or an imaginary being. Hob comes from the root word hump, originally meaning hill in Low German. A Hob can also be a spirit that builds its home in a hollow hill.
Imaginary being? Home in a hollow hill? Any of this sounding familiar yet?
Now for words beginning with the prefix ‘hob.’ See if you can spot the ways Tolkien may have taken the following words and used them when assigning characteristics to his beloved Shire-lings.
Hobnob: To drink together; a friendly chat.
Hobbyhorse: A medieval morris dancer.
Hobnail: A country clodhopper.
Hobbyhorsical: Whimsical, amusing.
Hobbyist: Someone who pursues an interest for pleasure or relaxation.
Hobbiler: A name used in the Middle Ages for a farmer who may also be called upon to fight.
Hobbler: Someone who tows a boat with rope along the shore.
Hobo: Originated as “hoe boy” or itinerant farm worker.
We’re plain, quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty, disturbing, uncomfortable things, they make you late for dinner. (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit)
Tolkien was to have been quoted as saying, “I am in fact a hobbit in all but size.” And I think he must have been. The astounding work and depth of heart he put into this group of peaceful, quirky creatures made his love for them obvious.
At a height of just over 5 feet, I also happen to be a lover of peace, and quiet, and good-tilled earth. I sometimes wonder if I’m only missing the hole in the ground … and the large hairy feet, of course.