Friday, May 28, 2010

Word of the Week: Bilbo

This week's word is bilbo, not the Bilbo Baggins of Hobbiton (more about him later), but a type of sword from the 16th century manufactured in Bilboa, a town in the Basque area of northern Spain that was famous for its ironworks. The blades were well-tempered and flexible. (Steel blades are tempered to increase their "toughness"). The English name for the sword is derived from the name of the town. According to the Wikipedia article for bilbo swords:

"Bilbo" is an English catch-all word used to very generally refer to the Spanish "Utilitarian" cup-hilt swords, so often found all over America. They usually had a wide, relatively short sturdy and well tempered blades, very practical and comparatively unadorned. The grip was more often than not wood, sometimes covered with wire.

Bilbos are tough, flexible, and unadorned. Are those qualities applicable to Bilbo Baggins? His journey in The Hobbit certainly tempered him and he demonstrated great flexibility as he adapted his skills to myriad situations, including  a battle of riddles, slaying giant spiders, smuggling his companions out of an elven dungeon, and stealing from a dragon. It's also not much of a stretch to describe the earthy, practical hobbits as unadorned. There is no evidence that Tolkien derived the name for Bilbo Baggins from the sword. More likely, he derived the name comes from Old English sources. However, it's hard to believe Tolkien--the philologist and contributor to the Oxford English Dictionary--didn't know about the word bilbo.

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