Originally posted on JRR Tolkien Examiner on 8/11/09.
These columns will each explore one word invented or popularized by JRR Tolkien.
mathom, n.; pl. mathoms
Origin: Invented by Tolkien
Real World Usability: 5/5
A mathom is an item, usually received as a gift, which has no genuine use, but cannot be thrown away because it is too valuable, or because the gift-giver will be offended.
Anything that Hobbits had no immediate use for, but were unwilling to throw away, they called a mathom. Their dwellings were apt to become rather crowded with mathoms, and many of the presents that passed from hand to hand were of that sort.
Tolkien created the Hobbitish word mathom from Anglo-Saxon maðm, “a precious thing, treasure, or valuable gift.”
Of course, Hobbits didn’t speak Anglo-Saxon – they spoke Westron. Mathom is a translation of the Westron kastar or kast, “treasure.”
It was a tendency of hobbit-holes to get cluttered up; for which the custom of giving so many birthday-presents was largely responsible. Not, of course, that the birthday-presents were always new; there were one or two old mathoms of forgotten uses that had circulated all around the district; but Bilbo had usually given new presents and kept those that he received.
The museum of Michel Delving, a repository of arms and other mathoms. Bilbo lent his mithril-mail to the Mathom-house, but reclaimed it before leaving the Shire in TA 3001.
On a side note — Michel is prounounced like “Mitchell.”