Dienstag, 7. Februar 2017

A hobbit of grain

Do we, like John Rateliff did in "The History of the Hobbit", really have to resort to an obscure and, in its time, little known list of legendary creatures to discover what inspired J.R.R. Tolkien to use the word "Hobbit"? Or is there, maybe, a more straighforward possibility?
"The hobbit (also hobbett, hobbet, or hobed, from Welsh: hobaid) is a unit of volume or weight formerly used in Wales for trade in grain and other staples. It was equal to four pecks or two and a half bushels, but was also often used as a unit of weight, which varied depending on the material being measured. The hobbit remained in customary use in markets in northern Wales after Parliament standardized the Winchester bushel as the unit of measure for grain, after which courts gave inconsistent rulings as to its legal status.

The hobbit was defined as a measure of volume, two and a half imperial bushels, but in practice it was often used as a unit of weight for specific goods. According to George Richard Everitt, Inspector of Corn Returns for Denbigh in northern Wales, when examined by the House of Commons in 1888, grains were sold by the hobbit, measured by weight. A hobbit of oats weighed 105 pounds, a hobbit of barley 147 pounds, and a hobbit of wheat 168 pounds. The figures in hobbits were then converted to standard imperial bushels for official reporting. In addition to grains, there was also a hobbit of beans at 180 pounds, and in Flintshire, a 200-pound hobbit of old potatoes, or 210 pounds of new potatoes. Around 1600, Welsh farmland was sometimes denominated by its productive capacity or measure of seedness instead of its physical area, so that in at least one case a plot was registered as "a hobbett of land", that is, large enough to grow one hobbit of grain per year."
Hobbit (unit)

The hobbit as a unit was known to authors like Prof. Rhys or Charles Dickens, ("An anonymous contributor to Charles Dickens's journal All the Year Round, arguing in favour of the decimal metric system, noted that
If [I buy wheat] at Wrexham, [I must order] by the hobbet of one hundred and sixty eight [pounds]. But, even if I do happen to know what a hobbet of wheat means at Wrexham, that knowledge good for Flint is not good for Caernarvonshire. A hobbet of wheat at Pwlheli contains eighty-four pounds more than a hobbet at Wrexham; and a hobbet of oats is something altogether different; and a hobbet of barley is something altogether different again."
Hobbit (unit)
This source defines hobbits for the purposes of a commercial trial in 1854: Hughes vs. Humphrey. Another source claims that the name of the Welsh unit is of unknown origin: A Dictionary of Weights

With Tolkien's affection for the Welsh language given, has it ever been examined whether this may be his actual (maybe subconscious) inspiration of the hobbit name?