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Language

The word “Hobbit” in The Oxford English Dictionary

06.04.10 | Kunochan | Speak, friend & comment!

I have fulfilled a lifelong dream, and acquired my very own (digital) copy of the complete Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Ed. (One day I will buy the dead tree version — full-size, not the one with the magnifying glass.)

Of course, the very first word I looked up was “hobbit,” which is famously included in this edition. I hereby reproduce the pertinent parts of the entry (but not the whole thing, for fear of getting a nasty DCMA take-down letter).

hobbit

In the tales of J. R. R. Tolkien (1892–1973): one of an imaginary people, a small variety of the human race, that gave themselves this name (meaning ‘hole-dweller’) but were called by others halflings, since they were half the height of normal men. Also attrib. and Comb. Hence hobbitish a., resembling a hobbit, hobbit-like; hobbitomane, a devotee of hobbits; hobbitry, the cult of hobbits; hobbits collectively, or their qualities.

1937 J. R. R. Tolkien Hobbit i. 11 In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.
1947 C. S. Lewis in Ess. presented to C. Williams 104 The Hobbit escapes the danger of degenerating into mere plot and excitement by a very curious shift of tone. As the humour and homeliness of the early chapters, the sheer ‘Hobbitry’, dies away we pass insensibly into the world of epic….
1954 J. R. R. Tolkien Fellowship of Ring … 20 The Thain was captain of the Shire-muster and the Hobbitry-in-arms.
1955 Return of King 416 Hobbit is an invention. In the Westron the word used, when this people was referred to at all, was banakil ‘halfling’. But the folk of the Shire and of Bree used the word kuduk. It seems likely that kaduk was a worn-down form of kûd-dûkan [= ‘hole-dweller’]. The latter I have translated by holbytla [‘hole-builder’]; and hobbit provides a word that might well be a worn-down form of holbytla, if the name had occurred in our own ancient language.
1962 Listener 22 Nov. 881/3 … To those who are already hobbitomanes, this book is bound to be a delight.
1966 New Statesman 11 Nov. 701/2 The newest and richest site of hobbitry is the American campus, where students are said to greet each other with hobbitish salutations such as ‘May your beard never grow less’….

I don’t buy the inclusion of “Hobbitry” as a “cult of Hobbits” — I think it should be used only as Tolkien did, as an interpersonal term for a group of Hobbits, or Hobbits in general. But “hobbitomane” is my new favorite word.

More info: the OED online; the OED on Amazon.com.

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