"male of a bovine animal," c. 1200, bule, from Old Norse boli "bull, male of the domestic bovine," perhaps also from an Old English *bula, both from Proto-Germanic *bullon- (source also of Middle Dutch bulle, Dutch bul, German Bulle), perhaps from a Germanic verbal stem meaning "to roar," which survives in some German dialects and perhaps in the first element of boulder (q.v.). The other possibility [Watkins] is that the Germanic word is from PIE root *bhel- (2) "to blow, swell."
An uncastrated male, reared for breeding, as opposed to a bullock or steer. Extended after 1610s to males of other large animals (elephant, alligator, whale, etc.). Stock market sense "one who seeks to cause a rise in the price of a stock" is from 1714 (compare bear (n.)). Meaning "policeman" attested by 1859. Bull-necked is from 1640s. Figurative phrase take the bull by the horns "boldly face or grapple with some danger or difficulty" first recorded 1711 (Swift). To be a bull in a china shop, figurative of careless and inappropriately destructive use of force, attested from 1812 and was the title of a popular humorous song in 1820s England.
It forms all or part of: bale (n.) "large bundle or package of merchandise prepared for transportation;" baleen; ball (n.1) "round object, compact spherical body;" balloon; ballot; bawd; bold; bole; boll; bollocks; bollix; boulder; boulevard; bowl (n.) "round pot or cup;" bulk; bull (n.1) "bovine male animal;" bullock; bulwark; follicle; folly; fool; foosball; full (v.) "to tread or beat cloth to cleanse or thicken it;" ithyphallic; pall-mall; phallus.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Greek phyllon "leaf," phallos "swollen penis;" Latin flos "flower," florere "to blossom, flourish," folium "leaf;" Old Prussian balsinis "cushion;" Old Norse belgr "bag, bellows;" Old English bolla "pot, cup, bowl;" Old Irish bolgaim "I swell," blath "blossom, flower," bolach "pimple," bolg "bag;" Breton bolc'h "flax pod;" Serbian buljiti "to stare, be bug-eyed;" Serbo-Croatian blazina "pillow."
An extended form of the root, *bhelgh- "to swell," forms all or part of: bellows; belly; bilge; billow; bolster; budget; bulge; Excalibur; Firbolgs.
An extended form of the root, *bhleu- "to swell, well up, overflow," forms all or part of: affluent; bloat; confluence; effluent; effluvium; efflux; fluctuate; fluent; fluid; flume; fluor; fluorescence; fluoride; fluoro-; flush (v.1) "spurt, rush out suddenly, flow with force;" fluvial; flux; influence; influenza; influx; mellifluous; phloem; reflux; superfluous.
before vowels petr-, word-forming element used from 19c., indicating "rock, stone" (in anatomy it refers to the petrous parts of certain bones), from Greek petros "stone, boulder," petra "rock, rocky mountain range, cliff" (see petrous).
a name given in the southwest of England to a large sandstone boulder, by 1743, properly sarsen stone, that is, "Saracen stone," from Saracen in the old, broad sense of "pagan, heathen" and thus used generally in the popular mind for the former (pre-Christian) inhabitants of the region.
The same word was applied to the ancient leavings outside Cornish tin mines, also known as Jews' pits, those being the other people formerly credited in Western Europe with any ancient structure of forgotten origin, based vaguely on Biblical chronologies.
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.