Brief Description   
Etymological Explanation   
Comments and Discussion   

Brief Description    

Earlier term used in the LostTales for the Noldorin Elves (q.v. Noldor).

Etymological Explanation    

Tolkien first used this name for the Noldor, but later abandoned it because of the association with Dwarfs.

However, the name Gnome seems to have caused some confusion: Tolkien derived this name from the greek word

gnōmē...'thought, intelligence'

and hence the meaning he had in mind was "Those who Know"; but unfortunately the term gnome is already "pre-occupied" (at least in European mythology and folklore) with the meaning of "dwarfish, subterranean goblins or earth spirits", originating probably in Paracelsus' writings who used it synonymously for pygmaeus, denoting a mythical race of very small people said to inhabit parts of Ethiopia and India. The word itself probably comes from greek



In conclusion I will add a note on two important modern words used in translation. The name Gnomes is sometimes used for the Noldor, and Gnomish for Noldorin. This has been done, because whatever Paracelsus may have thought (if indeed he invented the name), to some Gnome will still suggest Knowledge. Now the High-elven name of this folk, Noldor, signifies Those who Know; for of the ThreeKindreds of the Elves from their beginning the Noldor were ever distinguished both by their knowledge of things that are and were in this world and by their desire to know more. Yet they were not in any way like to the gnomes of learned theory, or of literary and popular fancy. They belonged to a race high and beautiful, the Elder Children of the world, who now are gone. Tall they were, fair-skinned and grey-eyed, though their locks were dark, save in the golden house of Finrod; and their voices knew more melodies than any mortal speech that now is heard. Valiant they were, but their history was grievous; and though it was in far-off days woven a little with the fates of the Fathers, their fate is not that of Men. Their dominion passed long ago, and they dwell now beyond the circles of the world, and do not return.
from: HoMeXII - "The Appendix on Languages p.76-7

[239] 1. Two words are in question : (1) Greek gnome, 'thought, intelligence' (and in the plural 'maxims, sayings', whence the English word gnome, a maxim or aphorism, and adjective gnomic) and (2) the word gnome used by the 16th-century writer Paracelsus as a synonym of pygmaeus. Paracelsus 'says that the beings so called have the earth as their element.... through which they move unobstructed as fish do through water, or birds and land animals through air' (Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. Gnome2). The O.E.D. suggests that whether Paracelsus invented the word himself or not it was intended to mean 'earth-dweller', and it discounts any connection with the other word Gnome.
from: Letters, Notes [239]

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