Explanation of the word hobbit
first presented: Omentielva Lempea, Aug. 10th 2013, Helsinki, Finland
[...] and there in rows stood great jars and vessels filled with a wealth that could not be guessed.
|The Hobbit, chapter XII: Inside Information|
|1||Akk.||kapru(m)||cup; table (for eating)|
|2||Akk.||karpu(m), karpatu(m)||jar, vessel (which may be of a fragile material)|
|3||Akk.||quppu(m)||chest, box, cage|
|4||Amh.||gabar||pan for frying pancakes|
|5||Amh.||gabatā||1. wooden plate or tablet 2. wicker table|
|6||Amh.||gabatā||measure of grain|
|7||Amh.||gub||a kind of woven disc|
|10||Ar.||garafa||to scoop with a hollow utensil|
|11||Ar.||gārəb||a kind of ship with rudders|
|12||Ar.||ǧarīb||measure of grain for sowing|
|14||Ar.||gurfa||hollow of the hand full of water; measure of grain|
|18||Ar.||kalb||a red stripe which one sews between two strips of hide, making up a purse|
|19||Ar.||kfra||bowl out of a netted fabric from date trees|
|22||Ar.||kūb||big cup, bowl|
|23||Ar.||kurufa, qurufa||straw hat|
|26||Ar.||qafʿa||a type of round basket without handles out of palm leaves|
|27||Ar.||qafaṣ||1. cage 2. shovel for wheat 3. a type of basket 4. stall 5. grid 6. measure of capacity|
|29||Ar.||qafir||beehive, tray for keeping dates in|
|30||Ar.||qafiz||measure of dry things, measure in surveying|
|31||Ar.||qafūr||sheath of the palm tree blossoms|
|32||Ar.||qalīf||basket for the transport of dates|
|33||Ar.||qārəb||a kind of ship with rudders|
|35||Ar.||quffa||bag of palm leaves|
|37||Aram.||kɘbʰȧsa||1. cluster of grapes 2. testicles|
|38||Aram.||kūbbȧsa||1. cluster of grapes 2. testicles|
|40||Aram.||qapʰsa||bottle, cage, basket|
|43||Aram.||qubbəta||water reservoir; tent|
|44||Basque||copalet||pouch with water (for a whetstone)|
|50||Basque||kopa||pouch with water (for a whetstone)|
|56||Beja||kafas||closed basket, cage|
|58||Berber||(a)gərrabu||a kind of ship|
|59||Berber||akäfu||basket out of paper|
|60||Berber||akufi||jar for cereal|
|61||Berber||t-guff-ət||big carrycot out of halfah grass|
|62||Berber||þaqᵊfif-þ||big carrycot out of halfah grass|
|67||Bilen||qaffo||big vessel out of palm tree, used for storage|
|69||Chamir||qefa||elongated basket, beehive|
|76||Fr.||cabas||woven bag for groceries|
|78||Fr.||carabe||withy boat covered in hides; a kind of litter; caravel|
|80||Fr.||coffin||1. small basket, basket for fruit 2. pouch with water (for a whetstone) 3. coffin|
|82||Fr.||corvette||corvette (small warship)|
|83||Fr.||couffe||a type of basket|
|85||Fula||gafakke||woven feedbag (for horses)|
|88||Geez||gabatā||plate, frying pan|
|89||Geez||gərāb||goatskin flask, amphora (?)|
|93||Geez||qafo||chest, basket, cage, beehive|
|96||Gr.||κάβος||measure of wheat|
|97||Gr.||κάλπη||pitcher, vessel for drinking; cinerary urn|
|98||Gr.||κάλπις||pitcher, vessel for drinking; cinerary urn|
|100||Gr.||καπᾱνη||1. manger (crib for the food of cattle) 2. chariot, basket of a chariot|
|101||Gr.||κάπη||manger (crib for the food of cattle)|
|105||Gr.||κιβωτός, κιβώτιον||box, chest, bottle|
|107||Gr.||κόφινος||basket; measure of volume|
|108||Gr.||κύμβη||1. vessel, cup, bowl 2. small boat|
|111||Gr.||κύπελλον||big-bellied drinking vessel, beaker, goblet, cup|
|112||Gr.||κύπελλον||vessel for drinking, for milking|
|113||Gr.||κύπρος||measure of capacity for cereal|
|114||Gr.||κυψέλη||box, chest; cell; hollow of the ear|
|119||A.Heb.||g-pʰ-l||vessel for drinking|
|120||A.Heb.||kbsa||pouch, bag, wallet|
|122||A.Heb.||kəlūbʰ, kəlībʰa||basket for grapes|
|124||A.Heb.||kōmer||pile of fruits made overripe|
|130||Heb.||kpʰipʰa||basket out of palm leaves|
|131||Heb.||qab||measure of capacity for non-liquids|
|133||It.||coffa||crow’s nest (on a ship’s mast), little basket|
|137||Lat.||calpar||vessel for wine|
|139||Lat.||capis, capedo||bowl with a handle|
|142||Lat.||capsus||wagon-body, cage for large animals|
|143||Lat.||capula||bowl with a handle|
|146||Lat.||cavea||cage, fence, beehive|
|149||Lat.||copellus||measure of volume|
|152||Lat.||coppanus||measure of grain|
|155||Lat.||cumera, cumerus||basket out of rush; clay vessel to store grain|
|156||Lat.||cūpa||cask, tub, barrel|
|158||Lat.||gabata||a kind of dish, plate|
|160||Mandinka||gabā||woven straw hat|
|161||Mandinka||gafa||woven feedbag (for horses)|
|169||Pers.||qar(r)āba||bottle, vessel out of glass|
|171||Prov.||coufo||a type of basket|
|172||Rif.||aq(ə)bbuz||chest for cereal|
|173||Rif.||aqrab||bag woven out of palm tree sprouts|
|177||Sans.||kapāla||cup, jar, dish|
|178||Sans.||kapāla||skull, cranium, skull-bone|
|183||Songhay||gafa||woven feedbag (for horses)|
|184||Sp.||cafiz, cahiz||measure of capacity defined by the grain load on a mule with which one can inseminate an area|
|185||Sp.||cuévano||1. large basket for grapes 2. beehive|
|187||Saho||qafo||large vessel out of palm tree, used for storage; beehive|
|190||Syriac||kȧpʰarta||drinking vessel made out of woven and tarred palm leaves|
|191||Syriac||kulbȧša||basket for grapes|
|193||Tigrinya||gabatā||measure of grain|
|194||Tigrinya||gabbarā||very large vessel made of a tree trunk; trough to make pastry|
|195||Tigrinya||kafar||woven withy basket|
|197||Tigrinya||kāribbo||goatskin flask stitched into a form of a bottle|
|198||Tigrinya||qʷafo||chest, basket, cage, beehive|
|199||Tuareg||ăgrəbbən||small spherical vessel for butter made out of leather|
|200||Tuareg||akabar||mortar without legs|
|201||Tuareg||takəbat||very small can with a lid|
|202||Turk.||kabrān||measure of volume|
Having brought Cohen’s data in digital form, it is possible to generate some statistics about sound distributions. To simplify things across different phonologies, I put similar sounds in groups: For the first consonant, all voiceless stops are represented by K, voiced by G and voiceless fricatives by H. For the vowel, I use the obvious notation A, E, I, O, U for the five common vowels, Y for [y] and empty curly brackets in the case of a schwa, an unknown vowel (as in Middle Egyptian) or no vowel at all. For the second consonant, the possibilities are P, B, F, V, M and MP/MB for a nasalized cluster. This gives the following distribution (values below 3% are suppressed):
If the words chosen have no correlation with their phonetic shape at all, one would expect the sound frequencies to follow their respective distributions among the languages. For example, the first sound was restricted to a velar, but no further, so that the above values would match how common K is compared to G or H. And indeed, the relative commonness of F as the second consonant, for example, seems to be related to a bias of the data towards Semitic and its commonness in Arabic (where [p] > [f]). If there is a correlation, one should see a deviation. However, this is obviously difficult to show in practice, since the rank-frequencies for the given languages are unknown. Still, one notices that the vowels E and I appear rather rarely, clearly way below their typical rank-frequencies across languages. I shall come to this point further below.
If one looks further still, Cohen’s theory cannot be the whole story, as argued by Anatoly Liberman in a 2010 paper titled “Iconicity and etymology”. As an illustrative example, he considers the English word cob which is attested in the following meanings in the Oxford English Dictionary , with the year of first attestation:
The word apparently shows quite a bit of semantic spread, but the meanings seem to be centered around the ideas of ‘lump, small roundish piece’, ‘head, bulb, clove’, ‘stoutness’ (by extension ‘stout man, leader’) and ‘a kind of animal’. Such a semantic spread, along with its late (i.e., long past the Proto-Indo-European stage) appearance strongly suggests one thing: The English word ‘cob’ is sound-symbolic, and as such, it has simply been reinvented rather than taken as a loan or continued from the ancestor language.
And it is far from being alone, consider for example the following attested meanings of the Hungarian word gamó :
Here, the meanings could be grouped under ‘swelling’ or ‘crookedness’, the common denominator with cob being an idea of curvature or convexity.
A joining of the two semantic fields of ‘vessel’ and ‘convex shape’ is soon found by noticing that German Kolben ‘club, the thick end of a club’ underwent a change to ‘flask’ (which can be considered club-shaped), or that Ancient Greek κύμβη on the one hand appears with the meaning ‘hollow of a vessel, drinking cup, bowl; boat’, but also as ‘head’ and ‘knapsack, wallet’. The latter, in particular, can be considered both as a kind of container and as a kind of lump at the same time.
Words with this idea also appear far from the Mediterranean region, as e.g. Korean kopta ‘be winding’, kwupta ‘be bent’ or Japanese kobu ‘bump, lump, protuberance, swelling’. This does not neglect the cross-loaning in the Mediterranean region discussed by Cohen, of course, but some instances should be perhaps rethought, especially when they do no not match up as etymologists would like them to. Liberman mentions Sanskrit kapalam ‘cup, skull’ and Greek κύβος ‘cube’ which are thought of as cognates despite the mismatch of a voiceless and voiced sound. A similar mismatch is found in Greek χαμός beside χαβός ‘curved’ or Latin globus and glomus ‘globe, ball-shaped mass’.
A common pattern with such words that I have observed in etymological dictionaries, is then that the frustrated etymologist will either give up, tentatively suggest a Wanderwort, a loan, or propose some kind of substate effect. However, at one point the German etymologist Friedrich Kluge admits to a sound-symbolic origin when discussing the etymology of Kropf, writing “apparently a sound-symbolic formation with a phonetic shape common to such meanings”  (my translation).
Another way to cope with the difficulties has often been to cut up the words even further, for instance postulating Proto-Indo-European *keu- ‘bend, curve’ with possible extensions *keu-p- or *keu-b-. It appears highly doubtful, however, that languages really work in this way – clearly, English cob was not created by extension of a root *ko-. But while the exact consonant is a big deal for etymology, it is much less so for sound symbolism. Its simpler form is onomatopoeia where beep is just a louder peep and a lot of leeway is natural.
Having become slightly obsessed with the matter, I set out to find as many kup/korb shapes as possible which would confirm to the above ideas. To classify them, I devised the following semantic subdivisons:
Since Cohen was focused on vessel-words, simply mixing my list into his would create a bias towards vessel. Therefore, I keep all the words in my list distinct from Cohen’s, unless there are reasons to repeat them – like words appearing here in different semantic fields.
Apart from the glosses and their translations, I also list the semantic field I counted them in, as well as their origin, if such was suggested in an etymological dictionary. The sources are given in the last column. I do not provide sources for words from common languages which can be looked up easily in a number of dictionaries.
lang. gloss translation sem. orig. ref. 1 Akk. gamlu bent stick (as projectile), throwing stick hook  2 Akk. kamkammatu 1. metal ring ring  3 Akk. kamkammatu 2. round moon, full moon lump  4 Akk. kapālu(m) to roll up, wind up, intertwine each other (of snakes, birds etc.) bending  5 Akk. kapāpu to curve, bow bending  6 Akk. kapāṣu to bend back, distort (of part of body, snake, horn of moon, part of liver) bending  7 Akk. kappultum wrapping (as purpose of textile) bending  8 Akk. karmu(m) heap, mound lump  9 Akk. kiplu twisting, twine bending  10 Akk. kippatu(m) circle, hoop, ring ring  11 Akk. kippatu(m) tendril, twining stem of vine bending  12 Akk. kippatu(m) handle, grip of vessel, musical instrument hook  13 Akk. kippu(m) loop, trap ring  14 Akk. kirbānu lump (of earth) lump  15 Akk. kuppu cistern, water source vessel  16 Akk. kuppupu(m) very bent bending  17 Akk. kupputtu measuring vessel vessel  18 Akk. kupputu conglomerated (of parts of liver) lump  19 Akk. qablu(m) 1. hips, waist 2. belt, girdle ring  20 Akk. qabru(m) grave, tomb cavity  21 Akk. qabūtu bowl vessel  22 Akk. qebēru(m) 1. bury 2. wrap up (as though for burial) 3. be rolled up, convoluted (?) bending  23 OE crump, crumb crooked bending  24 Ar. ġarrāfa noria (wheel-like machine for lifting water) ring 25 Ar. qubba dome dome 26 Av. kamarā girdle, belt ring  27 Chag. koburčak box vessel  28 Chag. kopur vessel vessel  29 Welsh copa top, summit, head head 30 Welsh cwm valley cavity 31 Dutch klamp heap lump  32 Dutch klamp clamp hook O.Dut. *clampe  33 Dutch koper trading vessel vessel  34 Eng. calf calf, young of a cow, etc. cub PIE *gʷelbʰ-/*gʷolbʰ-  35 Eng. clamp heap lump  36 Eng. clamp clamp, device for fastening hook O.Dut. *clampe  37 Eng. cob round object, stone of a fruit, testicle, roundish heap, lump, haystack, knot of hair, lump of coal, dumpling lump  38 Eng. cob head of a herring, seeding head of wheat, clover etc. head  39 Eng. cob great man, big man, leading man, wealthy man, miser, huge, lumpish person swelling  40 Eng. cobble cobble, rounded stone lump Eng. cob  41 Eng. coble a kind of fishing boat vessel Lat. caupulus  42 Eng. coif cap, headdress headgear O.Fr. coiffe  43 Eng. coop basket vessel Lat. cūpa  44 Eng. cramp bent piece of iron bending M.Du. crampe, cramp  45 Eng. creep move the body near or along the ground as a reptile or insect doe bending 46 Eng. crib 1. bed for a baby 2. box with food for farm animals vessel 47 Eng. crimp to wrinkle bending 48 Eng. cripple lame or partly disabled person or animal; original sense ’bent, twisted’ bending  49 Eng. crumple to curl up, become wrinkled or bent bending OE crump, crumb  50 Eng. cub the young of the fox, bear, lion, tiger etc. cub ON kobbi  51 Eng. gaff fishing hook hook M.Fr. gaffe  52 Eng. gob lump of slimy substance lump O.Fr. gobe  53 Eng. gobbet piece of flesh, lump of food (archaic) lump O.Fr. gobet  54 Eng. grave grave, tomb cavity PIE *grebʰ-/*grobʰ-  55 Eng. groove furrow, trench, channel cavity PIE *grebʰ-/*grobʰ-  56 Eng. hamper large basket vessel O.Fr. hanapier  57 Eng. hanaper case for holding documents vessel O.Fr. hanapier  58 Eng. heap large, disordered pile of things lump PIE *keu-p-  59 Eng. hive nest for bees lump 60 Eng. hoop circular band ring 61 ME cawell fish basket vessel  62 Est. kolp skull head 63 Est. kübar hat headgear 64 Fin. huppu hoof, cowl headgear 65 Fin. kaivaa to dig, excavate cavity 66 Fin. kimpale slab, chunk, clod, lump, large irregular piece lump 67 Fin. klimppi gob, clump, clot lump 68 Fin. kuhmu knot, swelling swelling 69 Fin. kumara bent, bowed bending 70 Fin. kuoppa hole, pit cavity 71 Fin. kyhmy swelling, protuberance swelling 72 Fin. kypärä helmet headgear 73 Fr. coiffe headdress, cap headgear Lat. cofia (cofea)  74 Fr. couffe carrycot vessel 75 Fr. couffin carrycot vessel 76 Fr. coupe cup vessel Lat. cuppa 77 Fr. courber to bend bending 78 Fr. cuve vat vessel Lat. cūpa 79 Fr. gobe fattening ball (for poultry), poisoned ball (for a dog) lump O.Fr. gobe  80 M.Fr. gaffe long pole with an attached fishhook hook  81 O.Fr. gobe mouthful, lump lump  82 O.Fr. hanap goblet vessel Frank. *hnap  83 O.Fr. hanapier basket for holding a goblet vessel O.Fr. hanap  84 Geo. gaberili swollen swelling 85 Geo. gumbati dome dome 86 Geo. kamari girdle, belt ring 87 Geo. khbo calf cub 88 Ger. Graben ditch cavity PIE *gʰrebʰ-  89 Ger. Haupt head (arch.) head PIE *kapwet-/kaput- [14, 23] 90 Ger. Hüfte hip bending PIE *keu-  91 Ger. Humpen tankard vessel 92 Ger. Kalb calf cub PIE *gʷelbʰ-/*gʷolbʰ-  93 Ger. Kerbe dent, groove cavity 94 Ger. Kiepe dosser, pannier (high basket carried on the back) vessel 95 Ger. Kiepe straw hat, hood headgear 96 Ger. Knospe bud swelling 97 Ger. Knubbe bud, bulge, swelling swelling 98 Ger. Kolben various club-like or cylindric objects: corncob, spadix, butt of a rifle, club or mace proper; piston lump 99 Ger. Kolben laboratory flask vessel 100 Ger. Kopf head head Lat. cuppa  101 Ger. Korb basket vessel Lat. corbis  102 Ger. Kropf crop, craw (outwards expanded portion of the alimentary tract in birds) swelling P.Germ. *kruppa-  103 Ger. krumm crooked bending 104 Ger. Kübel tub, bucket vessel Lat. cūpella  105 Ger. Kufe vat, tub (especially for transporting salt) vessel Lat. cūpa  106 Ger. Kuppel dome dome It. cupola  107 Ger. Kürbe dosser, pannier (high basket carried on the back) (Bavarian dialect) vessel 108 Ir. cabhuil conical basket for catching fish vessel ME cawell  109 OHG kramph bent, crooked bending  110 Gr. γλάφῠ hollow, cavern cavity  111 Gr. κάλυμμα grave cavity  112 Gr. κάλυμμα head-covering, hood, veil, covering put on the face of the dead headgear  113 Gr. καμάρα anything with an arched cover: covered carriage; covered boat or barge; vaulted chamber; burial chamber; vault of heaven; vaulted ceiling dome  114 Gr. κάμπτω 1. to bend, curve 2. to turn or guide a horse or chariot round the turning-post 3. to be bowed down bending  115 Gr. κελεβή cup, jar, pan vessel  116 Gr. κεφαλή head head PIE *gʰebʰ(e)l- [15, 12] 117 Gr. χαβός curved bending  118 Gr. χαμός curved bending  119 Gr. κλίμα inclination, slope bending  120 Gr. κυβιστάω tumble head foremost rotation  121 Gr. κύβος 1. cubical die, 2. vertebra, 3. block of stone, 4. piece of salt fish, 5. kind of cubic cake, 6. hollow above the hips of cattle, 7. part of an irrigation-machine hook  122 Gr. κύφελλα hollows of the ears cavity  123 Gr. κύφελλα clouds of mist, arrows lump  124 Gr. κῦμα anything swollen (as if pregnant): the swell of the sea, a wave, billow; the foetus in the womb, embryo etc. swelling  125 Gr. κύμβη 1. hollow of a vessel, drinking cup, bowl 2. boat 3. knapsack, wallet vessel  126 Gr. κύμβη head head  127 Gr. κύπη 1. a kind of ship 2. a kind of hut vessel  128 Gr. κύπη gap, hole cavity  129 Heb. kipá kippah, traditional Jewish hat headgear 130 Heb. kipá dome (liteal meaning of kippah) dome 131 Hindi khopri skull head Sans. kharpara  132 Hun. gamó hook, crook, branches hook  133 Hun. gamó 1. having windgalls (swellings on the joints of horses) (1802), 2. big, unshapely foot (1885) swelling  134 Hun. himpók windgall (swelling on the joints of a horse) swelling 135 Hun. kalap hat headgear 136 Hun. kampó hook hook 137 Hun. koporsó coffin vessel Chag. koburčak  138 It. caraffa decanter, carafe vessel Sp. garaffa  139 It. cupola dome dome Lat. cūpula (cuppula)  140 It. gabbia basket for fowls, coop vessel 141 Jap. kaban bag, basket, briefcase vessel 142 Jap. kabuto helmet, headpiece headgear 143 Jap. kobu bump, lump lump 144 Jap. kobu protuberance, swelling swelling 145 Jap. kubi neck, head head 146 Jap. kubomi hollow, cavity, dent, depression cavity 147 Jap. kurumu wrap up bending 148 Kor. kopta be winding bending  149 Kor. kwupta be bent bending  150 Lat. calvāria skull head PIE *klHe-/klHou̯o-  151 Lat. camurus curved or arched inwards; having such horns bending  152 Lat. cappa cape, hooded cloak headgear  153 Lat. caput head head PIE *kap-ut-  154 Lat. caupulus a kind of small ship vessel  155 Lat. caverna cave, hole cavity Lat. cavus 156 Lat. cavus hollow, excavated, concave, deep (of water) cavity PIE *ḱouH-ó-  157 Lat. cerebrum brain, skull vessel 158 Lat. cofia (cofea) cap headgear  159 Lat. cubitus elbow, forearm bending  160 Lat. cumulus heap, pile lump PIE *ḱuh1-mo-  161 Lat. cūpella small vat or cask vessel Lat. cūpa 162 Lat. cuphia cap headgear  163 Lat. cūpula (cuppula) small, crooked handle hook Lat. cūpa (cuppa) 164 Lat. cūpula (cuppula) little tub, cask vessel Lat. cūpa (cuppa) 165 Lat. cūpula (cuppula) small burying vault dome Lat. cūpa (cuppa) 166 Lat. curvus bent, crooked, curved bending PIE *kuru̯o-?  167 Lat. gibbus hump, hunchbacked swelling PIE *geibʰ-?  168 Lat. glēba (glaeba) lump of earth, clod lump PIE *gleb(ʰ)-? *glob(ʰ)-?  169 Lat. globus round body, round sphere, globe ring 170 Lat. glomus ball-shaped mass lump PIE *glem-o/es- [13, 23] 171 Lat. grūmus heap of earth, hillock lump PIE *h2ǵr-ōm-o-  172 Lat. hāmus hook, fish-hook hook  173 Lith. kupra hump swelling 174 Mal. koppara coconut lump Hindi khopri  175 M.Du. crampe, cramp bent piece of iron bending  176 Nivkh qob ladle vessel  177 ON kobbi young seal cub  178 O.Jap. kabu head head  179 Pers. gonbad dome, vault, arch dome 180 Pers. kamar waist, loins ring  181 Pol. klomb flowerbed lump Eng. clump  182 Quechua kump’u crooked, hunchbacked swelling 183 Quechua q’iwi arc, bow, curve; crooked, curved bending 184 Rus. глыба big lump lump 185 Rus. голова head head 186 Rus. кабушка (кабушек) small lump (especially of curd or cheese) lump  187 Rus. кап burl (deformed growth on a tree) swelling 188 Rus. карапуз pudgy, chubby child swelling 189 Rus. каравай large round bread; round cake; boulder, roundish underwater stone lump  190 Rus. карман vessel 191 Rus. клуб puff, roundish formation of smoke, dust, mist lump 192 Rus. клубень tuber lump 193 Rus. коба (кова) stump, snag; pile for fastening boats; hummock lump  194 Rus. кобениться to bend, writhe, squirm, wriggle bending 195 Rus. кобеняк 1. bag, pouch 2. awkward, clumsy person lump  196 Rus. кобло pit cavity  197 Rus. колоб ball, round bread lump 198 Rus. колпак high-crowned cap, cowl headgear Turk. kalpak  199 Rus. колыбель crib vessel 200 Rus. ком lump, ball lump 201 Rus. копать to dig cavity 202 Rus. копна haycock; something having the shape of a haycock (in particular a tuft of hair) lump 203 Rus. короб basket, box vessel 204 Rus. коробья 1. basket, chest, box 2. measure of grain vessel 205 Rus. ковалок chunk, slice (esp. of meat) lump  206 Rus. ковчег 1. box, vessel 2. Ark of the Covenant, Noah’s Ark vessel  207 Rus. коверкать to bend, distort bending 208 Rus. ковш ladle vessel 209 Rus. куб vat vessel 210 Rus. кубарь spinning top rotation 211 Rus. кубель vat vessel  212 Rus. кубель 1. wooden toy sphere 2. wallet, knapsack out of birch bark lump  213 Rus. кубиться to gather into a pile, lump, crowd lump  214 Rus. кубок cup, goblet, bowl vessel Rus. куб  215 Rus. кувшин jug vessel 216 Rus. кувырок somersault, roll, tumble rotation 217 Sans. kapāla skull, cranium, skull-bone head  218 Sans. kapāla cup, jar, dish vessel  219 Sans. kharpara 1. thief, rogue, cheat 2. skull 3. a beggar’s bowl or dish, 4. umbrella or parasol 5. a kind of mineral substance head  220 Sans. kumbhá jar, pitcher, water-pot, ewer, small water-jar vessel [15, 17] 221 Sans. kumbhá the frontal globe or prominence on the upper part of the forehead of an elephant swelling  222 Sp. garrafa decanter, carafe vessel Ar. ġarrāfa  223 Sum. gabil 1. basket 2. main beam of a chariot vessel  224 Sum. gam shepherd’s crook, bent stick; haft, hilt hook  225 Sum. gurum to bend, curve, wrap around; to bow; to roll up; to curb, restrain; to watch over bending  226 Sum. gurum pile lump  227 Sum. kibid backside, ass swelling  228 Tamil kappal ship vessel 229 Turk. kabar to swell swelling 230 Turk. kalpak high-crowned cap headgear 231 Ukr. каблук curve, bend of a road bending 
I should note that this list can only serve as a list of candidates. In no way do I claim that all of the words have been formed sound-symbolically (many are in fact attested loans). The latter is of course a thing which is almost impossible to prove most of the time. A sufficiently long list is, however, a first prerequisite to demonstrate that the correlation between kup/korb and convexity is not a coincidence that just works with any sound-shape and any meaning.
To round things up, one can show how the various fields interact using the semantic map technique. For this specific case one could do it in the following way: Filtering out all words which are attested in different fields, one can put them on a graph and draw a line between two vertices whenever a semantic field is shared. This leads to the following picture:
We can see that vessel, lump and hook have the most connections, with the other areas being connected peripherally.
It is interesting to note at this point that in a letter discussing the pitfalls of historical semantics, Tolkien mentions Latin corbis as the formal equivalent of English harp (that is, they look like cognates). He goes on to say that “the poor philologist will have to call on some archaeological expert before he can decide whether any relationship between ‘harps’ and ‘baskets’ is possible – supposing Gmc. harpō always meant ‘harp’ or corbi-s always meant ‘wicker basket’! corbīta means a fat-bellied ship” (Let#209). Klein explains harp as literally meaning ‘an instrument plucked with crooked fingers’ , comparing ON herpask ‘to contract (one’s fingers)’ and Russian коробить ‘to bend, warp’.
We can now finally turn to Tolkien’s languages and apply the same procedure, looking for words satisfying the kup/korb phonetic shape while also belonging in the outlined semantic categories. The following, still quite sizeable set can be found:
lg. gloss translation root sem. ref. 1 G. cam bent, bowed; submissive, humble KAVA- bending GL:25 2 G. cam(m)a- to stoop, bend, bow, cower KAVA- bending GL:25 3 G. caug humpback KAẆA- ’stoop’ swelling GL:25 4 G. caug humped, bulging KAVA- swelling GL:25 5 G. caug bent KAVA- bending GL:25 6 G. cav- to bend, make stoop KAVA- bending GL:25 7 G. corm globe, a ring or circle, a disc *KORO- ring GL:26 8 G. corob skull *KORO- head GL:26 9 G. cub hollow *KUPU- cavity GL:27 10 G. cûf hollow *KUPU- cavity GL:27 11 G. cûm mound, especially grave, burial mound KUMU- ’heap up’ lump GL:27 12 G. cuptha- to bend (tr.) *KUVU- bending GL:27 13 G. cuvon bowed, bent, concave *KUVU- bending GL:27 14 G. gob hollow of hand *KOPO- cavity GL:40 15 N. calf water-vessel KALPA- vessel LR:362 16 N. crib- to bend krikw- bending PE13:141 17 N. cumb, cum mound, heap KUB- lump LR:365 18 N. gamp hook, claw GAP- hook LR:357 19 Q. kalpa water-vessel KALPA- vessel LR:362 20 Q. kalpa- to draw water, scoop out, bale out KALPA- cavity LR:362 21 Q. kamba bend [sic], crooked KAVA- < *KABA- bending GL:25 22 Q. kambe hollow (of hand) KAB- ’hollow’ cavity LR:361 23 Q. kambo cellar, cave, vault KAVA- < *KABA- dome QL:45 24 Q. kauka crooked, bent, bowed KAẆA- ’stoop’ bending QL:45, GL:25 25 Q. kauka humped KAẆA- ’stoop’ swelling QL:45 26 Q. kauko (-u) humpback KAẆA- ’stoop’ swelling GL:25 27 Q. kauta- to bend *KAW- bending PE16:100 28 Q. kava- to dig KAVA- < *KABA- cavity QL:45 29 Q. kawin I bow, make obeisance KAẆA- ’stoop’ bending QL:45 30 Q. kolma ring KOL- ring VT45:23 31 Q. kōma ball KOMO- ring QL:47 32 Q. kōmea globe-shaped, round KOMO- ring QL:47 33 Q. kop- hollow of hand *KOPO- cavity GL:40 34 Q. korma ring *KOR- ring LotR 35 Q. -kumba bellied *KUB- swelling SD:68,72 36 Q. kumbe mound, heap KUB- lump LR:365 37 Q. kumbe pile, heap, load, burden KUMU- ’heap up’ lump QL:49 38 Q. kúme pile, heap, load, burden KUMU- ’heap up’ lump QL:49 39 Q. kumpo pile KUMU- ’heap up’ lump QL:49 40 Q. kūne crescent, bow KUVU- ’bend, bow’ bending QL:49 41 Q. kupta- to hump up, look humpy, etc. KUPU- ’hump’ swelling QL:49 42 Q. kuptulo camel KUPU- ’hump’ swelling QL:49 43 Q. kuve bow KUB- bending PE22:102 44 S. carab hat *KARAP- headgear WJ:426 45 S. haudh funeral mound KHAB- ’heap up, pile up’ lump PE19:91 46 T. hamna funeral mound KHAB- ’heap up, pile up’ lump PE19:91
Before proceeding, let us look at some statistics and compare the Elvish data with the natural languages (excluding Cohen’s data). For the first consonant, one finds the following distributions:
For the vowel:
Finally, for the second consonant:
I do not think that much can be said about the distributions of the consonants: The commonness of K probably just reflects its relative commonness compared to G or H in the languages involved. The high frequency of V in Elvish is clearly due to the Quenya shift of [b] > [v], and so on. However, looking at the distribution of vowels, one finds the same pattern as in Cohen’s data: While A is the most common vowel, E almost does not appear at all and I only very little. Here, one can make a quantitative comparison to the rank-frequencies of Elvish vowels. For Sindarin (including the Noldorin of the “Etymologies”), I have calculated them directly ; for Quenya only in initial and final position in conjuncture with consonants  (using a list of words from the “Etymologies” only). The latter two actually give similar results and thus should be a reasonable approximation:
So while the commonness of A in the kup/korb shape clearly reflects its commonness in Elvish overall, a striking deviation is the near-absence of E, I on the one hand, and the highly increased frequency of O, U on the other (especially U). It is not difficult to see that the vowels O and U, which involve lip rounding, are particularly iconic in their reference to rounded or convex shapes, so that the preference given to them over E and I ties in well with the semantics. This appears to be true for Elvish and natural languages alike (and can be also seen in Cohen’s data above).
Finally, we can also compare the distribution of the words among the semantic fields:
Here we can see a lot of differences. While vessel is the most common semantic field in natural languages, it is almost not represented in Elvish, occurring only in the words Q. kalpa, N. calf ‘water-vessel’. The two most common fields in Elvish are bending and lump, which are also common in natural languages. On the other hand, cavity and swelling are noticeably more common in Elvish. It would appear that all of this simply reflects Tolkien’s taste, his own association with the kup/korb sound shape.
We can now formulate the following hypothesis: The word hobbit is related to a universal sound-symbolic shape kup, defined by velar – rounded vowel – labial (or korb with an optional liquid) which independently occurs in many languages and is semantically centered around the idea of convexity or concavity1. In natural languages it occurs most frequently in names for vessels of various kind, followed by words for ‘lump’ and words related to bending. Tolkien places it most commonly among ‘bending’, ‘lump’, ‘cavity’ and ‘swelling’. And hobbit has been conceived not just on its own, but along with its hole in the ground.
Following the creation of the word, Tolkien has always explained it as ‘hole-dweller’, sometimes as ‘hole-maker’ (see below). At the end of The Lord of the Rings, the true Westron word rendered by English hobbit is said to be kuduk, related to a Rohan word kûd-dûkan (LotR App. F, note 1). In an earlier conception, however, the endonym used in the Shire was cūbuc (with final vowel loss and devoicing of cūbug(u)), pl. cūbugin, a reflex of an Old Westron word cūg-bagu ‘hole-dweller’, preserved in Rohan (PE:49). Other earlier variants include:
In the preparatory conceptions of Westron, we also find:
Obviously, we have that kūg or kūd is ‘hole’, while -bagu(l), -badul or -dūka is ‘dweller’, but in the usage of the Shire, the word does not seem to be analyzable any longer, the two elements fuse into a kup shape (except for kuduk, of course). On the other hand, glōba and kubu, kubal confirm to the shape right from the start.
So it would appear that hobbit simply reflects Tolkien’s preference of kup to denote hollow cavities rather than vessels. The seeds were already laid in his languages by G. cub, cûf ‘hollow’, gob ‘hollow of hand’, Q. kop- hollow (of hand)’ and kava- ‘dig’ appearing in the Gnomish and Qenya Lexicons long before the Hobbit. Finally, one may speculate that his choice of [h] as the initial sound was influenced by the English word ‘hole’, while the ending -it shows a high front vowel typical of diminutives .
I would like to thank Lőrinczi Gábor and Valeria Barouch for helpful discussions.
This document was translated from LATEX by HEVEA.