Tolkien Gateway

Letter 319

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 319
RecipientRoger Lancelyn Green
Date8 January 1971
Subject(s)Putting the word "hobbit" into the dictionary

Letter 319 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

[edit] Summary

The Oxford English Dictionary had proposed to put the word "hobbit" into a new supplement. Tolkien stated that he had to justify his claim to having invented the word. His claim rested upon his unsupported assertion that when he invented it he did not know then of any prior instance or near-instance. Citing words beginning with hob-, Tolkien noted that his statement that hobgoblins were "a larger kind" was a reverse of the truth. The only word that had an influence was "hole"; the trolls' use of "rabbit" was merely an insult.

Tolkien said that doubt on the word's origin was cast back in 1938 when a review in The Observer, signed "Habit", claimed that the word had been used in an old "fairy story" 20 years earlier. Neither asking for information from the reviewer nor extensive research had uncovered this prior instance. Tolkien ended by saying, "Oh what a tangled web we weave who try a new word to conceive!"