1937, coined in the fantasy tales of J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973).
On a blank leaf I scrawled: 'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.' I did not and do not know why. [Tolkien, letter to W.H. Auden, dated 1955]
The word also turns up in a very long list of folkloric supernatural creatures in the writings of Michael Aislabie Denham (d. 1859) as an aside to his explanation that those born on Christmas Eve cannot see spirits. Denham was an early folklorist who concentrated on Northumberland, Durham, Westmoreland, Cumberland, the Isle of Man, and Scotland. This was printed in volume 2 of "The Denham Tracts" [ed. James Hardy, London: Folklore Society, 1895], a compilation of Denham's scattered publications.
What a happiness this must have been seventy or eighty years ago and upwards, to those chosen few who had the good luck to be born on the eve of this festival of all festivals; when the whole earth was so overrun with ghosts, boggles, bloody-bones, spirits, demons, ignis fatui, brownies, bugbears, black dogs, specters, shellycoats, scarecrows, witches, wizards, barguests, Robin-Goodfellows, hags, night-bats, scrags, breaknecks, fantasms, hobgoblins, hobhoulards, boggy-boes, dobbies, hob-thrusts, fetches, kelpies, warlocks, mock-beggars, mum-pokers, Jemmy-burties, urchins, satyrs, pans, fauns, sirens, tritons, centaurs, calcars, nymphs, imps, incubuses, spoorns, men-in-the-oak, hell-wains, fire-drakes, kit-a-can-sticks, Tom-tumblers, melch-dicks, larrs, kitty-witches, hobby-lanthorns, Dick-a-Tuesdays, Elf-fires, Gyl-burnt-tales, knockers, elves, rawheads, Meg-with-the-wads, old-shocks, ouphs, pad-foots, pixies, pictrees, giants, dwarfs, Tom-pokers, tutgots, snapdragons, sprets, spunks, conjurers, thurses, spurns, tantarrabobs, swaithes, tints, tod-lowries, Jack-in-the-Wads, mormos, changelings, redcaps, yeth-hounds, colt-pixies, Tom-thumbs, black-bugs, boggarts, scar-bugs, shag-foals, hodge-pochers, hob-thrushes, bugs, bull-beggars, bygorns, bolls, caddies, bomen, brags, wraiths, waffs, flay-boggarts, fiends, gallytrots, imps, gytrashes, patches, hob-and-lanthorns, gringes, boguests, bonelesses, Peg-powlers, pucks, fays, kidnappers, gallybeggars, hudskins, nickers, madcaps, trolls, robinets, friars' lanthorns, silkies, cauld-lads, death-hearses, goblins, hob-headlesses, bugaboos, kows, or cowes, nickies, nacks necks, waiths, miffies, buckies, ghouls, sylphs, guests, swarths, freiths, freits, gy-carlins Gyre-carling, pigmies, chittifaces, nixies, Jinny-burnt-tails, dudmen, hell-hounds, dopple-gangers, boggleboes, bogies, redmen, portunes, grants, hobbits, hobgoblins, brown-men, cowies, dunnies, wirrikows, alholdes, mannikins, follets, korreds, lubberkins, cluricauns, kobolds, leprechauns, kors, mares, korreds, puckles korigans, sylvans, succubuses, blackmen, shadows, banshees, lian-hanshees, clabbernappers, Gabriel-hounds, mawkins, doubles, corpse lights or candles, scrats, mahounds, trows, gnomes, sprites, fates, fiends, sibyls, nicknevins, whitewomen, fairies, thrummy-caps, cutties, and nisses, and apparitions of every shape, make, form, fashion, kind and description, that there was not a village in England that had not its own peculiar ghost. Nay, every lone tenement, castle, or mansion-house, which could boast of any antiquity had its bogle, its specter, or its knocker. The churches, churchyards, and crossroads were all haunted. Every green lane had its boulder-stone on which an apparition kept watch at night. Every common had its circle of fairies belonging to it. And there was scarcely a shepherd to be met with who had not seen a spirit!
[Emphasis added] It is curious that the name occurs nowhere else in folklore, and there is no evidence that Tolkien ever saw this. The word also was recorded from 1835 as "a term generally used in Wales to express a quantity made up of four Welsh pecks" [in English court records for Hughes vs. Humphreys, a weights-and-measures case]. Hobbitry attested from 1947.
Old English fæger "pleasing to the sight (of persons and body features, also of objects, places, etc.); beautiful, handsome, attractive," of weather, "bright, clear, pleasant; not rainy," also in late Old English "morally good," from Proto-Germanic *fagraz (source also of Old Saxon fagar, Old Norse fagr, Swedish fager, Old High German fagar "beautiful," Gothic fagrs "fit"), perhaps from PIE *pek- (1) "to make pretty" (source also of Lithuanian puošiu "I decorate").
The meaning in reference to weather preserves the oldest sense "suitable, agreeable" (opposed to foul (adj.)). Of the main modern senses of the word, that of "light of complexion or color of hair and eyes, not dusky or sallow" (of persons) is from c. 1200, faire, contrasted to browne and reflecting tastes in beauty. From early 13c. as "according with propriety; according with justice," hence "equitable, impartial, just, free from bias" (mid-14c.).
Of wind, "not excessive; favorable for a ship's passage," from late 14c. Of handwriting from 1690s. From c. 1300 as "promising good fortune, auspicious." Also from c. 1300 as "above average, considerable, sizable." From 1860 as "comparatively good."
The sporting senses (fair ball, fair catch, etc.) began to appear in 1856. Fair play is from 1590s but not originally in sports (earlier it meant "pleasant amusement," c. 1300, and foul play was "sinful amusement"). Fair-haired in the figurative sense of "darling, favorite" is from 1909. First record of fair-weather friends is from 1736 (in a letter from Pope published that year, written in 1730). The fair sex "women" is from 1660s, from the "beautiful" sense (fair as a noun meaning "a woman" is from early 15c.). Fair game "legitimate target" is from 1776, from hunting.
Others, who have not gone to such a height of audacious wickedness, have yet considered common prostitutes as fair game, which they might pursue without restraint. ["Advice from a Father to a Son, Just Entered into the Army and about to Go Abroad into Action," London, 1776]
"the mark in the middle of the belly where the umbilical cord was attached in the fetus," Middle English navele, from Old English nafela, nabula, from Proto-Germanic *nabalan (source also of Old Norse nafli, Danish and Swedish navle, Old Frisian navla, Middle Dutch and Dutch navel, Old High German nabalo, German Nabel), from PIE *(o)nobh- "navel" (source also of Sanskrit nabhila "navel, nave, relationship;" Avestan nafa "navel," naba-nazdishta "next of kin;" Persian naf; Latin umbilicus "navel;" Old Prussian nabis "navel;" Greek omphalos; Old Irish imbliu). For Romanic words, see umbilicus.
The cords of all link back, strandentwining cable of all flesh. [Joyce, "Ulysses"]
"Navel" words from other roots include Lithuanian bamba, Sanskrit bimba- (also "disk, sphere"), Greek bembix, literally "whirlpool." Old Church Slavonic papuku, Lithuanian pumpuras are originally "bud." Considered a feminine sexual center since ancient times, and still in parts of the Middle East, India, and Japan. In medieval Europe, it was averred that "[t]he seat of wantonness in women is the navel" [Cambridge bestiary, C.U.L. ii.4.26]. Words for it in most languages have a secondary sense of "center."
Meaning "center or hub of a country" is attested in English from late 14c. To contemplate (one's) navel "meditate" is from 1933; hence navel-gazer (by 1947); see also omphaloskepsis. Navel orange is attested from 1831.
Another great key I will give you is to be found by the contemplation of the Manipur Lotus, which is in the navel, or thereabouts. By contemplating this center you will be able to enter and go into another person's body, and to take possession of that person's mind, and to cause him to think and to do what you want him to do; you will obtain the power of transmuting metals, of healing the sick and afflicted, and of seership. ["Swami Brahmavidya," "Transcendent-Science or The Science of Self Knowledge," Chicago, 1922]
Old English bean "bean, pea, legume," from Proto-Germanic *bauno (source also of Old Norse baun, Middle Dutch bone, Dutch boon, Old High German bona, German Bohne), and related to Latin faba "bean;" Greek phakos "lentil;" Albanian bathë "horse-bean;" Old Prussian babo, Russian bob "bean," but the original form is obscure. Watkins suggests a PIE reduplicated root *bha-bhā- "broad bean;" de Vaan writes that the Italic, Slavic and Germanic "are probably independent loanwords from a European substratum word of the form *bab- (or similar) 'bean'."
As a metaphor for "something of small value" it is attested from c. 1300 (hill of beans as something not much to amount to is from 1863). The meaning "head" is U.S. baseball slang 1905 (in bean-ball "a pitch thrown at the head"); thus slang verb bean meaning "to hit on the head," attested from 1910. Bean-shooter as a child's weapon for mischief, a sort of small sling-shot to fire beans, is attested from 1876. Derisive slang bean-counter "accountant" is recorded by 1971.
The notion of lucky or magic beans in English folklore is from the exotic beans or large seeds, carried from the Caribbean or South America by the Gulf Stream, that wash up occasionally in Cornwall and western Scotland. They were cherished, believed to ward off the evil eye and aid in childbirth.
To not know beans "be ignorant" is attested by 1842 in American English, often said to be a New England phrase; it is perhaps from the "object of little worth" sense. Some of the earliest citations give it in a fuller form, but they do not agree: "why, I sometimes think they don't know beans when the bag is open" ["The History of the Saints," 1842]; "This feller don't know beans from porridge, no how." ["Etchings of a Whaling Cruise," 1850]. It might have a connection to the English colloquial expression know how many beans make five "be a clever fellow" (1824).
c. 1200, poisoun, "a deadly potion or substance," also figuratively, "spiritually corrupting ideas; evil intentions," from Old French poison, puison (12c., Modern French poison) "a drink," especially a medical drink, later "a (magic) potion, poisonous drink" (14c.), from Latin potionem (nominative potio) "a drinking, a drink," also "poisonous drink" (Cicero), from potare "to drink" (from PIE root *po(i)- "to drink").
A doublet of potion. For similar form evolution from Latin to French, compare raison from rationem, trahison from traditionem. The more usual Indo-European word for this is represented in English by virus. The Old English word was ator (see attercop) or lybb (cognate with Old Norse lyf "medicinal herbs;" see leaf (n.)).
For sense evolution, compare Old French enerber, enherber "to kill with poisonous plants." In many Germanic languages "poison" is named by a word equivalent to English gift (such as Old High German gift, German Gift, Danish and Swedish gift; Dutch gift, vergift). This shift might have been partly euphemistic, partly by influence of Greek dosis "a portion prescribed," literally "a giving," used by Galen and other Greek physicians to mean an amount of medicine (see dose (n.)).
Of persons detested or regarded as exerting baleful influence, by 1910. The slang meaning "alcoholic drink" is by 1805 in American English (potus as a past-participle adjective in Latin meant "drunken").
As an adjective from 1520s; with plant names from 18c. Poison ivy is recorded by 1784 for a shrub-vine of North America causing an itching rash on contact; poison oak for poison ivy or related species is by 1743. Poison sumac (1817), causing an even more severe rash, is a swamp-border tree noted for the brilliant red of its leaves in fall. Poison gas is recorded from 1915. Poison-pen (letter) was popularized 1913 by a notorious criminal case in Pennsylvania, U.S.; the phrase dates to 1898.
Old English cnawan (class VII strong verb; past tense cneow, past participle cnawen), "perceive a thing to be identical with another," also "be able to distinguish" generally (tocnawan); "perceive or understand as a fact or truth" (opposed to believe); "know how (to do something)," from Proto-Germanic *knew- (source also of Old High German bi-chnaan, ir-chnaan "to know"), from PIE root *gno- "to know."
For pronunciation, see kn-. Once widespread in Germanic, the verb is now retained there only in English, where it has widespread application, covering meanings that require two or more verbs in other languages (such as German wissen, kennen, erkennen and in part können; French connaître "perceive, understand, recognize," savoir "have a knowledge of, know how;" Latin scire "to understand, perceive," cognoscere "get to know, recognize;" Old Church Slavonic znaja, vemi). The Anglo-Saxons also used two distinct words for this, the other being witan (see wit (v.)).
From c. 1200 as "to experience, live through." Meaning "to have sexual intercourse with," also found in other modern languages, is attested from c. 1200, from the Old Testament (Genesis iv.1). Attested from 1540s in colloquial phrases suggesting cunning or savvy (but often in the negative); to not know one's ass from one's elbow is from 1930.
As far as (one) knows "to the best of (one's) knowledge" is late 14c. Expression God knows is from c. 1400. To know too much (to be allowed to live, escape, etc.) is from 1872. To know better "to have learned from experience" is from 1704.
You know as a parenthetical filler is from 1712, but it has roots in 14c. You know as a euphemism for a thing or situation unmentionable is from 1867; you-know-who for a person it is thought best not to name (but implying the hearer knows) is from 1840.
As an expression of surprise, what do you know attested by 1914. Don't I know it in the opposite sense ("you need not tell me") is by 1841. You never know as a response to something unexpected is attested from 1924.
16th letter of the classical Roman alphabet, occurring in English only before a -u- that is followed by another vowel (with a few exceptions; see below), whether the -u- is sounded or not (pique). The letter is from the Phoenician equivalent of Hebrew koph, qoph, which was used for the deeper and more guttural of the two "k" sounds in Semitic. The letter existed in early Greek (where there was no such distinction), and called koppa, but it was little used and not alphabetized; it mainly served as a sign of number (90).
The connection with -u- began in Latin. Anglo-Saxon scribes at first adopted the habit, but later used spellings with cw- or cu-. The qu- pattern returned to English with the Normans and French after the Conquest and had displaced cw- by c. 1300.
In some spelling variants of late Middle English, quh- also took work from wh-, especially in Scottish and northern dialects, for example Gavin Douglas, Provost of St. Giles, in his vernacular "Aeneid" of 1513:
Lyk as the rois in June with hir sueit smell
The marygulde or dasy doith excell.
Quhy suld I than, with dull forhede and vane,
With ruide engine and barrand emptive brane,
With bad harsk speche and lewit barbour tong,
Presume to write quhar thi sueit bell is rong,
Or contirfait sa precious wourdis deir?
Scholars use -q- alone to transliterate Semitic koph or the equivalent in Turkish or Iranian (as in Quran, Qatar, Iraq). In Christian theology, Q has been used since 1901 to signify the hypothetical source of passages shared by Matthew and Luke but not in Mark; in this sense probably it is an abbreviation of German Quelle "source" (from Old High German quella, from the same Proto-Germanic source as Old English cwiella, cwylla"spring; well"). In Middle English accounts, it is an abbreviation of quadrans "farthing" (mid-15c.). In Roman personal names it is an abbreviation of Quintus.
c. 1200, mēne, "shared by all, common, general," a sense now obsolete, shortened from imene, from Old English gemæne "common, public, general, universal, shared by all," from Proto-Germanic *ga-mainiz "possessed jointly" (source also of Old Frisian mene, Old Saxon gimeni, Middle Low German gemeine, Middle Dutch gemene, Dutch gemeen, German gemein, Gothic gamains "common"), from PIE *ko-moin-i- "held in common," a compound adjective formed from collective prefix *ko- "together" (Proto-Germanic *ga-) + *moi-n-, suffixed form of PIE root *mei- (1) "to change; exchange." Compare second element in common (adj.), a word with a sense evolution parallel to that of this word.
Meaning "of common or low origin, inferior in rank or status" (of persons) is attested from early 14c. Sense of "ordinary, inferior in attainment or skill" is from late 14c. Also from late 14c. as "poor in quality, of little value," though this sense survived longer in American than in England. James Stirling, in "Letters from the Slave States" [London, 1857], mentioning mean whites (poor whites in the South who do manual labor and are looked down on by the slaves) notes, " 'Mean' is an Americanism for 'poor,' 'shabby.' They speak here of a 'mean' hotel, a 'mean' dinner, &c."
The pejorative sense of "without dignity of mind, destitute of honor, low-minded" is from 1660s; the specific sense of "stingy, niggardly" is recorded by 1755; the weaker sense of "disobliging, pettily offensive" is from 1839, originally American English slang. All these developments of the English word were furthered by its coincidence in form with mean (adj.2) "middle, middling," which also was used in disparaging senses, and OED notes that some usages of mean it cites "might be referred almost equally to the native and to the foreign adj.; the truth is probably that they are of mixed ancestry."
The inverted sense of "remarkably good" (as in plays a mean Rhythm Master) first recorded c. 1900, perhaps from phrase no mean _______ "not inferior" (1590s, also, "not average," reflecting further confusion with mean (adj.2.)).
c. 1300, fairie, "the country or home of supernatural or legendary creatures; fairyland," also "something incredible or fictitious," from Old French faerie "land of fairies, meeting of fairies; enchantment, magic, witchcraft, sorcery" (12c.), from fae "fay," from Latin fata "the Fates," plural of fatum "that which is ordained; destiny, fate," from PIE root *bha- (2) "to speak, tell, say." Also compare fate (n.), also fay.
In ordinary use an elf differs from a fairy only in generally seeming young, and being more often mischievous. [Century Dictionary]
But that was before Tolkien. As a type of supernatural being from late 14c. [contra Tolkien; for example "This maketh that ther been no fairyes" in "Wife of Bath's Tale"], perhaps via intermediate forms such as fairie knight "supernatural or legendary knight" (c. 1300), as in Spenser, where faeries are heroic and human-sized. As a name for the diminutive winged beings in children's stories from early 17c.
Yet I suspect that this flower-and-butterfly minuteness was also a product of "rationalization," which transformed the glamour of Elfland into mere finesse, and invisibility into a fragility that could hide in a cowslip or shrink behind a blade of grass. It seems to become fashionable soon after the great voyages had begun to make the world seem too narrow to hold both men and elves; when the magic land of Hy Breasail in the West had become the mere Brazils, the land of red-dye-wood. [J.R.R. Tolkien, "On Fairy-Stories," 1947]
Hence, figurative adjective use in reference to lightness, fineness, delicacy. Slang meaning "effeminate male homosexual" is recorded by 1895. Fairy ring, of certain fungi in grass fields (as we would explain it now), is from 1590s. Fairy godmother attested from 1820. Fossil Cretaceous sea urchins found on the English downlands were called fairy loaves, and a book from 1787 reports that "country people" in England called the stones of the old Roman roads fairy pavements.