early 14c., "actually existing, having physical existence (not imaginary);" mid-15c., "relating to things" (especially property), from Old French reel "real, actual," from Late Latin realis "actual," in Medieval Latin "belonging to the thing itself," from Latin res "property, goods, matter, thing, affair," which de Vaan traces to a PIE *Hreh-i- "wealth, goods," source also of Sanskrit rayim, rayah "property, goods," Avestan raii-i- "wealth."
The meaning "genuine" is recorded from 1550s; the sense of "unaffected, no-nonsense" is from 1847. Real estate, the exact term, "land, including what is naturally or artificially on or in it" is recorded from 1660s, but as far back as Middle English real was used in law in reference to immovable property, paired with, and distinguished from, personal. The noun phrase real time is from early 19c. in logic and philosophy, from 1953 as an adjectival phrase in reference to "the actual time during which an event or process occurs," with the rise of computer processes. Get real, usually an interjection, was U.S. college slang in 1960s, reaching wide popularity c. 1987. As a noun, the real, "that which actually exists," by 1818 (Coleridge). The real thing "the genuine article" is by 1818.
Real applies to that which certainly exists, as opposed to that which is imaginary or feigned : as, real cause for alarm ; a real occurrence ; a real person, and not a ghost or a shadow ; real sorrow. Actual applies to that which is brought to be or to pass, as opposed to that which is possible, probable, conceivable, approximate, estimated, or guessed at. [Century Dictionary]
Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand. [Margery Williams, "The Velveteen Rabbit"]
"sequence of sensations or images passing through the mind of a sleeping person," mid-13c., probably related to Old Norse draumr, Danish drøm, Swedish dröm, Old Saxon drom "merriment, noise," Old Frisian dram "dream," Dutch droom, Old High German troum, German Traum "dream." These all are perhaps from a Proto-Germanic *draugmas "deception, illusion, phantasm" (source also of Old Saxon bidriogan, Old High German triogan, German trügen "to deceive, delude," Old Norse draugr "ghost, apparition"). Possible cognates outside Germanic are Sanskrit druh- "seek to harm, injure," Avestan druz- "lie, deceive."
Old English dream meant "joy, mirth, noisy merriment," also "music." Much study has failed to prove that Old English dream is the source of the modern word for "sleeping vision," despite being identical in form. Perhaps the meaning of the word changed dramatically, or "vision" was an unrecorded secondary Old English meaning of dream, or there are two words here.
OED offers this theory for the absence of dream in the modern sense in the record of Old English: "It seems as if the presence of dream 'joy, mirth, music,' had caused dream 'dream' to be avoided, at least in literature, and swefn, lit. 'sleep,' to be substituted ...."
The dream that meant "joy, mirth, music" faded out of use after early Middle English. According to Middle English Compendium, the replacement of swefn (Middle English swevn) by dream in the sense "sleeping vision" occurs earliest and is most frequent in the East Midlands and the North of England, where Scandinavian influence was strongest.
Dream in the sense of "that which is presented to the mind by the imaginative faculty, though not in sleep" is from 1580s. The meaning "ideal or aspiration" is from 1931, from the earlier sense of "something of dream-like beauty or charm" (1888). The notion of "ideal" is behind dream girl (1850), etc.
Before it meant "sleeping vision" Old English swefn meant "sleep," as did a great many Indo-European "dream" nouns originally, such as Lithuanian sapnas, Old Church Slavonic sunu, and the Romanic words (French songe, Spanish sueño, Italian sogno all from Latin somnium. All of these (including Old English swefn) are from PIE *swep-no-, which also is the source of Greek hypnos (from PIE root *swep- "to sleep"). Old English also had mæting in the "sleeping vision" sense.
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 from Wales]. Hobbitry attested from 1947.