Hol of course means hole. A "bottle" even now in some English place-names means a dwelling, and Old English bytlian means to dwell, to live in. Holbytla, then, = 'hole-dweller, hole-liver'.What this means is that there are at least five peoples in The Hobbit who can be described, without distortion, as Hobbits: Bilbo's people; the Dwarves; the Goblins -- and Gollum (both of whom live in the caves under the Misty Mountains) and Smaug himself. The titular 'The Hobbit' starts to look like ironic understatement.
Tuesday, 27 December 2011
How many species of Hobbits?
Tolkien, having coined the name, then (as was his wont) invented a mock-etymology for it. But this is widely misunderstood -- as for instance does Wikipedia: 'He set out a fictional etymology for the name in an appendix to Lord of the Rings, to the effect that it was derived from holbytla (plural holbytlan), a speculative reconstruction of Old English, meaning “hole-builder”'. This isn't right, though. Tom Shippey knows better: