“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” So begins J. R. R. Tolkien’s 1937 novel The Hobbit. A hobbit, as anyone who doesn’t live in a hole in the ground knows, is a small humanoid creature with hairy feet and a fondness for pipe-weed. The two most famous hobbits, Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, are the protagonists of that novel and of Tolkien’s later The Lord of the Rings. But contrary to what most people believe, Tolkien did not coin the term hobbit.

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Wordorigins.org is committed to respecting your online privacy and we only collect and maintain information that is required to effectively deliver content to you and to manage membership privileges in order to control trolls and other abusive behavior.

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Who We Are

Dave Wilton

Dave Wilton has a PhD in medieval English literature from the University of Toronto and has taught writing at Texas A&M University and the University of Toronto. Dave also has an M.A. from George Washington University in National Security Policy Studies and a B.A. from Lafayette College in Government and Law. He is also the author of Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends (Oxford University Press, 2004).

In past lives, Dave has worked as a marketing writer/editor and as a product manager for 3D graphics and digital television technologies at NVIDIA and OpenTV, for Science Applications International Corporation as a manager of programs that dismantled the nuclear stockpiles of the former Soviet Union, and as an arms control negotiator for the Pentagon.


Lila is the senior staff assistant here at Wordorigins.org. (Luckily our offices are ADA compliant, complete with elevator.) Her duties include reception and greeting of visitors, multiple daily perambulations, self-defenestration, mastication of assorted objects, and olfactory investigations.

We’ve been hiring. Bob (left) is the office manager, keeping everyone in line. Erik (center) and Charles (right) keep the keyboard warm when it is in use and inspecting the interior of boxes that arrive.

Lily is our office temp, employed from time to time to chase down balls.


Ghosts, magic crystals, faeries, homeopathy, Bigfoot, astrology, and the like are all examples of woo-woo or woo. But why are they called that? When and where does the term come from?

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Black Friday & Cyber Monday

In the U.S., the Friday after Thanksgiving is known as Black Friday. The day is the traditional start of the holiday shopping season and is the busiest shopping day of the year, with many stores offering sales and discounts. But this is not the only meaning for the phrase Black Friday. Where does the term come from and when was it coined?

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OK Boomer

The meme is sweeping the internet, but where did it originate?

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quid pro quo

Quid pro quo literally means “this for that” in Latin, but when did it appear and what does it mean in English?

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What is a hairbag? And is it a bad thing?

Police Detective Keith Dietrich has sued New York City, alleging that he was driven into retirement because his supervisors considered him too old for the job. One piece of evidence that Dietrich put forward was that his supervisor called him a hairbag.

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