narrow land passage along the Malian Gulf in ancient Greece, from Greek thermos "hot" (from PIE root *gwher- "to heat, warm") + pylai, plural of pylē "gate; mountain pass, entrance into a region" (see pylon). In reference to nearby hot sulfur springs. Often simply hai pylai "the gates." Figurative of heroic resistance against overwhelming numbers since the battle fought there between the Greeks and Persians in 480 B.C.E.
1680s as the name of a type of steel-gray metal, from German kobold "household goblin" (13c.), which became also a Harz Mountains silver miners' term for rock laced with arsenic and sulfur (according to OED so called because it degraded the ore and made the miners ill), from Middle High German kobe "hut, shed" + *holt "goblin," from hold "gracious, friendly," a euphemistic word for a troublesome being.
The metallic element (closely resembling nickel but much rarer) was extracted from this rock. It was known to Paracelsus, but discovery is usually credited to the Swede George Brandt (1733), who gave it the name. Extended to a blue color 1835 (a mineral containing it had been used as a blue coloring for glass since 16c.). Compare nickel. Related: Cobaltic; cobaltous.
"stick for striking fire." Late 14c., macche, "wick of a candle or lamp," a sense now obsolete, from Old French meiche "wick of a candle," from Vulgar Latin *micca/*miccia (source also of Catalan metxa, Spanish mecha, Italian miccia), which is of uncertain origin, probably ultimately from Latin myxa, from Greek myxa "lamp wick," originally "mucus," based on notion of wick dangling from the spout of a lamp like snot from a nostril, from PIE root *meug- "slimy, slippery" (see mucus). English snot also had a secondary sense from late 14c. of "snuff of a candle, burnt part of a wick," surviving at least to late 19c. in northern dialects.
The modern spelling is from mid-15c. The meaning "piece of cord or tow soaked in sulfur, used for lighting fires, lamps, candles, etc." is from 1530. It was used by 1830 for the modern type of sulfur-tipped wooden friction match, which were perfected about that time, and competed with lucifer for much of 19c. as the name for this invention. An earlier version consisted of a thin strip of wood tipped with combustible matter that required contact with phosphorous carried separately in a box or vial.
In the manufacture of matches much trouble has been occasioned by the use of phosphorous .... In some of the small and poorly-managed factories the men and children are never free from the fumes; their clothes and breath are luminous in the dark, and in the daytime white fumes may be seen escaping from them whenever they are seated by the fire. ... The danger arising from the use of matches was magnified, because they could sometimes be seen in the dark, were liable to ignite on a warm shelf, and were poisonous to such an extent that children had been killed by using them as playthings. [John A. Garver, "Matches," in The Popular Science Monthly, August 1877]
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.