Friday, September 08, 2006

The Daily Hump: Hobnob

Have you ever paused to wonder what the word hobnob actually means? I have. Or maybe I should say I hob because hobnob's hob is most likely from a Middle English word, habbe, meaning have. The nob is from the Middle English nabbe, which is simply a contraction of ne habbe (have not). Thus hobnob is to have and to have not.

It wasn't until Shakespeare came along that we see the first compounded use of hob and nob meaning something beyond the literal "to have and have not." In Twelfth Night Viola states "His so implacable, that satisfaction can be none, but by pangs of death and sepulcher: Hob, nob, is his word: giu't or take't." Pleasantly for the modern etymologist Shakespeare contextually defines the 1601 meaning of "hob, nob" as "to give or take."

Around the middle of the 18th century the verb hobnob begins popping up rather frequently to mean "to drink together." In a literal sense, it still retained the meaning of giving and taking; specifically what was being given and taken was the wine of two drinkers as their glasses clinked together during a toast. We all know that drinking breeds chumminess and today the word simply means "to associate familiarly."

Of course, that's not the whole story. Back in Shakespeare's time, before the give and take aspect of hobnob was associated with wine, an adverbial definition appeared--hit or miss. Hit or miss shares an obvious linguistic symmetry with give and take and have and have not. This meaning endured well into the 20th century, although today this definition has been rendered virtually obsolete by hobnob's more popular verb form.

Hobnob [OED]

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:: posted by David, 8:24 AM


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