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First appeared soon after the awakening of the Elves; apparently still extant
Obscure, but apparently bred from Elves or Men (see note 2 to the entry for Orcs)
Probably originally related to kobolds, spirits said to dwell in mines1
Other names


About this entry:

  • Updated 7 November 1999
  • Updates planned: 15


The race of Orcs

A name almost synonymous with Orcs. There is some debate about how closely the two terms are related to one another, and indeed it could be argued that they both effectively relate to the same thing.

The following quote from the foreword to The Hobbit sheds some light on this: "[The word 'Orc'] occurs in one or two places but is usually translated goblin (or hobgoblin for the larger kinds.)' The fact that the larger kinds are given their own special word might suggest that goblins tend to be smaller Orcs, but the evidence on this point is inconclusive.

The word 'goblin' is also used occasionally and indiscriminately in The Lord of the Rings; it never occurs in the The Silmarillion.



The relationship of 'goblin' to 'kobold' is a theory proposed by the Oxford English Dictionary, which suggests the following derivation (we've taken the liberty of expanding their standard abbreviations):

'Middle English, probably from Anglo-French *gobelin, medieval Latin gobelinus, probably from name diminutive of Gobel, related to Kobold'
The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English

In fact, there are at least two other theories. The first concerns two medieval parties, the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. The Guelphs were supposed to have despised their rival Ghibellines so much that their name became a 'bogey' word, and ultimately evolved into modern 'goblin'. The Ghibellines despised the Guelphs in equal measure, and so their name, too, apparently descended to modern times as 'elf'. Ingenious and economical as this theory is, it is almost certainly wrong.

A somewhat more plausible idea relates Goblins back to the almost-forgotten fairy figure of Ghob, the King of the Gnomes. In Old English, the earth-spirits who followed him might well have been referred to as Ghoblings, and this gives us a third possible source of the name, somewhat older than the other two.


About this entry:

  • Updated 7 November 1999
  • Updates planned: 15

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