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Old 03-08-2012, 06:35 PM   #1
Lalwendë
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1420! A Hobbit of Oats

Just a curious little thing I stumbled on to share with you.

I was looking at the British Newspaper Archive and in some of the old papers from Wales and Cheshire there are such curious lines as:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cheshire Observer, 1870
The hobbit was agreed upon, the barley to be de- livered at Mostyn station. The hobbits were to be sold by measure. Plaintiff, however, weighed one of the hobbits, and found it to be 1471bs.
It made me chuckle, but I decided to look this up and there's a decent Wikipedia entry about The Hobbit, a unit of weight which grains were sold by. Could this be another possible root for the word?

The article gives the following explanation and etymology:

Quote:
The hobbit (also hobbett, hobbet, or hobed, from Welsh: hobaid) is a unit of volume or weight formerly used in Wales for trade in grain and other staples. It was equal to four pecks or two and a half bushels, but was also often used as a unit of weight, which varied depending on the material being measured. The hobbit remained in customary use in markets in northern Wales after Parliament standardized the Winchester bushel as the unit of measure for grain, after which courts gave inconsistent rulings as to its legal status.
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Old 03-08-2012, 06:48 PM   #2
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Good find, Lal! That may very possibly be the root of hobbits.
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Old 03-08-2012, 07:51 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lalwendë View Post

The hobbit (also hobbett, hobbet, or hobed, from Welsh: hobaid) is a unit of volume or weight formerly used in Wales for trade in grain and other staples. It was equal to four pecks or two and a half bushels, but was also often used as a unit of weight, which varied depending on the material being measured. The hobbit remained in customary use in markets in northern Wales after Parliament standardized the Winchester bushel as the unit of measure for grain, after which courts gave inconsistent rulings as to its legal status.
Given Tolkien's devotion to the Welsh language, this is very intriguing, Lal. Even if the association weren't consciously made, it could well have been a word Tolkien knew from his studies of Welsh. Another effort to maintain a word which was becoming archaic.
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Old 03-08-2012, 08:22 PM   #4
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So a "hobbit" refers to weights and measures, eh? Maybe that's why a group of Hobbits is called a "gross".
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Old 03-08-2012, 10:10 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Morthoron View Post
So a "hobbit" refers to weights and measures, eh? Maybe that's why a group of Hobbits is called a "gross".
That's only when referring to Hobbits at a free-food banquet.

That is indeed an interesting find. Certainly not something I've ever heard before.

You'd think T. would have said so though, if that origin had been a factor.
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Old 03-09-2012, 01:37 AM   #6
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Brilliant, I say!

But I think Inzil has a good point here - would Tolkien not mention the origin of the word somewhere if it had been the case? Then again, it sounds veery unlikely that it would be completely unrelated (especially given his knowledge). Unconscious influence would therefore seem the most logical (like that he had heard the word somewhere, forgot about it and later simply used it, thinking it was "his") - unless the Prof wanted this to be his own private secret, hidden from his readers and others?

For that matter, this all makes the sentence "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit" much more dadaistic by origin than it would seem
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Old 03-09-2012, 03:30 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Morthoron View Post
So a "hobbit" refers to weights and measures, eh?
Quote:
Originally Posted by some hobbitish lads
Boy, you're gonna carry that weight
Carry that weight a long time
Boy, you're gonna carry that weight
Carry that weight a long time
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Old 03-09-2012, 06:40 AM   #8
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Tolkien did of course try to explain the etymology of the word hobbit within the Middle-earth context as being hol-bytla or 'hole builder'. But there's always been something of the real world about the word.

The use of the word hobbit or anything similar prior to Tolkien was scanty. And I'd not heard this new use before at all! There's the more well known possibility of it being linked to folklore terms such as hobgoblin/hobby oss/hobbledyhoy. And the word hobbit does occur in the Denham Tracts, which is a mid Victorian (and mad and rambling) collection of folklore, stories, lists, proverbs, etc. Again this is in connection with a British creature of folklore.

It's likely that Tolkien did somehow read the word used in both ways and store it in the back of his mind to be brought out again subsconsciously on the day he was bored while marking exam papers and wrote that first line of The Hobbit down. He was later to be credited with creating the word - did he do that or just give it a new meaning?

I find it satisfying that a hobbit is also a big measure of oats or barley
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Old 03-09-2012, 07:17 AM   #9
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I heard Shippey lecture on the origin of "hobbit" and other names as they originated in folklore - Lal is on the same track in her above post. However, the weight/measure source idea is fascinating! And who's to say it wasn't part of the "leafmould" of Tolkien's imagination...
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Old 03-09-2012, 07:53 AM   #10
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So barley isn't only available in pints, but in hobbits too?
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Old 03-09-2012, 09:23 AM   #11
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So barley isn't only available in pints, but in hobbits too?
Also, I predict that henceforth, all the (especially English-speaking) Downers are going to come to shops and ask for everything measured in weight/volume in hobbits
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Old 03-09-2012, 12:01 PM   #12
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Also, I predict that henceforth, all the (especially English-speaking) Downers are going to come to shops and ask for everything measured in weight/volume in hobbits
You know I will try this. The temptation to order a hobbit of taters is just too much for me to resist.

I'm hoping to get over to Flintshire at some point soon (family history fieldtrip) and I might try it on some Welsh folks and see if they still use it. I might not try up in Cerrig-y-drudion though, they're all Sons of Glyndwr up there.
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Old 03-09-2012, 12:51 PM   #13
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Leaf Another odd use for hobbits...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Legate of Amon Lanc View Post
Also, I predict that henceforth, all the (especially English-speaking) Downers are going to come to shops and ask for everything measured in weight/volume in hobbits
MIT has a habit of giving test problems in mixed systems of measurement. The problem might be given in english measures, feet, pounds and whatnot, but the answer would be asked for in metric measure. One time a professor forgot to specify what unit of speed the answer should be given in, and got all sorts of different and creative units of measurement in his responses, including furlongs per fortnight.

The hobbit seems to be just the sort of unit of measurement for such a situation!
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Old 03-09-2012, 03:41 PM   #14
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What is better than a bushel of oats?
-A hobbit of oats!
What is better than a hobbit of oats?
-Two hobbits of oats!

Ahem. Yes, I know.

Blantyr: furlongs per fortnight! Wow!

Legate: I wish I could ask for something in hobbits. But the only grocery store that I frequent where they ask how much (weight) of something I need, is the local Russian store (where I'd ask for it in Russian)! Kinda defeats the purpose.

But if ever I'm asked in English how much of something I need, referring to the weight, I'm gonna ask for a hobbit or two!

Or, even funnier: I should ask for a half a hobbit. Would that make these people Quarterlings?
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Old 03-09-2012, 05:34 PM   #15
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Considering a "hobbit" is a unit of weight, does that then make Fredegar Bolger the most valuable inhabitant of the Shire? That is, prior to his going on "The Lockholes Diet" (as advertised on ShireTV).

P.S. Hobbiton, as in a "ton of Hobbits".
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