Wednesday 28 December 2011

Hob and Nob and Hobnobbing

I have been asked by Twitter whether there is any connection, however tentative and tangential, between hobnobbing and hobbledehoy. The short answer is No, because nobody has any idea where hobbledehoy comes from. However, I did discover the true meaning of hobnobbing, which is much more fun than I expected.

The first record of hob nob is found in Twelfth Night where an angry duellist is described thuslyly:

He is knight, dubbed with unhatched rapier and on carpet consideration; but he is a devil in private brawl: souls and bodies hath he divorced three; and his incensement at this moment is so implacable, that satisfaction can be none but by pangs of death and sepulchre. Hob, nob, is his word; give't or take't.

Hob appears to come from the Old English for have, and nob from have not. However, the meaning of hob nob seems to have shifted slightly to give or take - in this case the knight will either give death or take it, but it is a mortal duel.

However, hob or nob quickly became a much more friendly term when combined with a few drinks. If I fill a festive flask and say, 'Here's to you, dear reader of this ridiculous blog,' and you say 'No, here's to you, dear writer of this ridiculous blog,' then we can be said to have toasted each other hob a nob.

Hob nob became a shortening of such mutually amicable bibosity, so that in 1762 Oliver Goldsmith could have the line:

Hob nob, Doctor, which do you chuse, white or red?

And soon such friendly exchanges became known as hobnobbing.

Anyway, after nearly a week at number one on the Amazon bestsellers list, I can gaze with monumental patience on The Etymologicon's comfortable lapse to second place. I shall go and unearth for myself a beaker of the warm South, pop the cork and drink a toast to all of you, dear readers. I shall hob, whether you nob is up to you.


  1. I always thought that Hobs, or Hobbs was an English nickname for the devil?

  2. ... it always amussed me that they were the "devils biscuits" or other anotomical part...

  3. Hob is very often a shortening of Robin, which shortens Robin Goodfellow or Puck. Hence hobgoblin etc.
    See this old post for more.

  4. Thanks for that, I always though that eating a lot of biscuits was the origin of hobgoblin... (sorry)

    No connection to the devil? another urban myth from Hammer Films! ah well...

  5. Here is a Hob and Nobb cartoon from 1856:

  6. Could be related to Hobbledehoy, I think it might come from "Sir Hobbard de Hoy", possibly a schoolmaster.