A “lob” – obsolete word – is a spider from Old English loppe.  But it’s also (separate word, spelled the same) a dialectical word for country bumpkin or a lout (a Scandinavian-rooted word).

Oh, yes.  This is why I did this.  One syllable.  Two obsolete words.  Classic bullying technique – what’s wrong with me calling you a spider?  It’s just a word for spider!  But we both know it means lout – and in Norse it means short and fat and clumsy and bumpkin.  Bilbo needed to pull out the big guns, word-wise, to distract the spiders from his friends, and he did it in three letters.  The master craftsman at play.

08.100 Lazy Lob and crazy Cob
08.119 Soon there came the sound of ‘Lazy Lob’

“† lob, n.1.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 20 May 2015.

“lob, n.2.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 20 May 2015.


The current sense of “glimpse” – a passing view – blends with the archaic meaning of “a flash” as Tolkien uses it in The Hobbit.  Glimpses of treasure – was that the twinkle?  or the dwarves’ view of the twinkle?  I am, as ever, delighted.

  • 03.018 Soon Bilbo caught glimpses of them
  • 05.124 a glimpse of endless unmarked days
  • 05.130 a glimpse of light.
  • 06.001 and plains glimpsed occasionally between the trees.
  • 08.003 he could catch glimpses of them whisking off the path
  • 09.062 Also he had caught a glimpse of a fire through the trees,
  • 11.021 in which he sometimes thought he could catch glimpses
  • 11.029 he could see a glimpse of the distant forest.
  • 12.076 that the hobbit had already caught a glimpse
  • 13.023 and caught a glimpse of great passages
  • 13.032 The mere fleeting glimpses of treasure

“glimpse, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 11 May 2015.


It is possible that I got into this entire business because of my curiosity about the word “grim”.  It’s an uncommon word.  It’s a humble, one-syllable word.  It evokes in me a sense of the color grey although I find only one close pairing of those words: 09.053 shadow grey and grim!  I wondered who was described as grim, and had a vague sense that it was related in Tolkien’s usage to kingship.  Here’s our little table of who and what are described as grim in The Hobbit.

  • The Misty Mountains:  01.082 Far over the misty mountains grim
  • Thror and Thrain:  01.124 They looked very grim but they said very little.
  • Gandalf:  01.132 and grimly,
  • Mirkwood:  08.078 The forest was grim
  • Thranduil: 09.006 and though he looked grimly at them,
  • Shadow: 09.053 Stoops in shadow grey and grim!
  • The Lonely Mountain: 11.001
  • Balin: 11.007
  • Bilbo: 12.008
  • Bard:
    • 14.006 said another with a grim voice.
    • 14.009 But the grim-voiced fellow ran hotfoot to the Master.
    • 14.013 if it had not been for the grim-voiced man
    • 14.018 grim-voiced
    • 14.018 and grim-faced,
    • 15.020 he is a grim man but true.
    • 15.046 and grim of face,
    • 15.049 and grimly spoken;
    • 16.032 asked Bard grimly.
  • Thorin:
    • 15.059 So grim had Thorin become,
    • 17.019 said Thorin grimly.
  • Dain’s troops
    • 16.005 Though they are a grim folk,
    • 16.031 and has at least five hundred grim dwarves with him –
    • 17.031 and their faces were grim.
  • Some men of Beorn’s line: 18.051 and some were grim men

Not all the grim folk are kings, but all the kings are grim.

Online Etymology Dictionary tells us that it’s an Old English word meaning fierce and severe, adding the connotation of ‘gloomy’ in the 12th century.  Its Proto-Indo-European root may be related to “thunder”, and I’ve certainly known more than one person of grim countenance to be described in stormy terms.

Harper, Douglas. “Grim”.  Online Etymology Dictionary. Web.


I had meant to leave the names alone for now, the words which Tolkien invented for the work, as that is the prerogative of every author.  Tolkien’s particularly gifted and fantastically expert touch with onomastics also means that the names he invented have been discussed and studied by folks far more scholarly than I am, and I wish to focus on more humble words.

Then this shot across my bows in the course of my professional life:

 A popular skill game in the 18th century it features a wooden ball cup game and the more challenging aspect of catching the hole in the ball on the end of the stick. Once you have mastered the bilbo any number of amazing possibilities may be opened to you.

Jas. Townsend & Son (op. cit) is a high-quality, well-researched company purveying toys, clothing, and other oddments to 18th-century American colonial re-enactors.

Update from the OED: Bilbo is a way of spelling a sword of “Bilbao”, Spain, compare Toledo or Damascus blades, and “Bilbo” was often the name of such a sword, especially as worn by a swashbuckler, or the swashbuckler himself who bears one.  For attestation we are given the phrase “bilbo’s the word” thusly: “1693   W. Congreve Old Batchelour iii. i. 24   Bilbo’s the Word, and Slaughter will ensue.”  It is also, in meaning two, an iron bar (possibly also of Bilbao steel) to which many sliding ankle shackles may be attached.

Aside from the fact that Tolkien read absolutely everything ever and probably knew the Congreve quote, we are certain that he encountered this word because Shakespeare used it and I’m certain that every syllable of Shakespeare passed in front of Tolkien’s eyes. “1602   Shakespeare Merry Wives of Windsor iii. v. 102   Crammed like a good bilbo, in the circomference Of a pack, Hilt to point.”

Prisoner and bold adventurer and rural, parochial amusement.  My admiration cannot be adequately expressed; my eyes are growing misty as I type.  Links to scholarly papers on this word will be welcome in the Comments.

The name “Bilbo” or the possessive “Bilbo’s” appears 555 times in the text of The Hobbit.

“bilbo, n.1.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 3 June 2015.

“bilbo, n.2.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 3 June 2015.

Townsend, Jas. & Son, Inc. “Bilbo” Catalogue 35. Web.