August 8th, 2015

bah

When Is A Hobbit Hole Not A Hobbit Hole?

You can build a hobbit hole but you can't call it a hobbit hole- or so says the Tolkien estate. And since the Tolkien estate is a behemoth that can afford to hire the most expensive lawyers its ruling is likely to go untested in a court of law.

Which is a pity.  Because I'm not sure it would win. Or deserves to win.  Does the person who coins a word own that word? Arguably, I suppose- if you're being legalistic about it- that would be the case- but most coiners are only too happy to release their word into the language and let it go off and have adventures of its own, (Think what a killing Shakespeare would have made if he'd been able to copyright his coinings. Or Lewis Caroll. Or Edward Lear.) The word "Hobbit" has been knocking around now for roughly three quarters of a century and- in addition to its original application- has gone and attached itself to a species of prehistoric pygmy hominid- and that's how language works. It's a living thing. You can't police the common tongue or stick copyright notices over the dictionary and Tolkien himself- for whom language was both a business and a playground- would almost certainly have agreed.