AskDefine | Define gnome

Dictionary Definition



1 a legendary creature resembling a tiny old man; lives in the depths of the earth and guards buried treasure [syn: dwarf]
2 a short pithy saying expressing a general truth

User Contributed Dictionary


Etymology 1

From Greek γνωμη ‘thought, opinion’, from the base of γιγνωσκειν ‘to know’.


  • /nəʊm/, /nəʊmi/


  1. A brief reflection or maxim; a pithy saying.

Etymology 2

From French gnome, from modern Latin gnomus, used by Paracelsus as a synonym for Pygmaeus ‘pygmy’.


  • /nəʊm/
  • , /n@Um/
  • Rhymes: -əʊm


  1. A legendary being, supposed to be short, usually bearded men who inhabit the inner parts of the earth, and act as guardians of mines, treasure, etc
  2. (Rosicrucianism) The elemental being of earth.
  3. A dwarf; a goblin; a person of small stature or misshapen features, or of strange appearance.
  4. A small owl (Glaucidium gnoma) of the Western United States.
  5. In the context of "paganism": A nature spirit in Heathenry.
A legendary being, supposed to be short, usually bearded men who inhabit the inner parts of the earth
The elemental being of earth
A dwarf; a goblin
A small owl

Extensive Definition

A gnome is a mythical creature characterized by its extremely small size and subterranean lifestyle. The word gnome is derived from the New Latin gnomus. It is often claimed to descend from the Greek gnosis, "knowledge", but more likely comes from genomos "earth-dweller", in which case the omission of e is, as the OED calls it, a blunder. Another possibility is that it comes from the Arabic نوم (Noum), which means sleep. It is also possible that Paracelsus simply made the word up.
Paracelsus includes gnomes in his list of elementals, as earth elementals. He describes them as two spans high, and very taciturn. Sometimes they are seen as a type of fairy, though at other times are seen as a distinct species in their own right.
There is some belief that Gnomes are in fact real, such as the Gnome sightings in Argentina, though these are disputed as hoaxes by skeptics.


Gnomes are traditionally thought of as being small, bearded and wearing pointed, colourful, conical hats. They live in natural areas close to the Earth and care for wildlife. They are more benevolent than other such folkloric creatures like goblins. This traditional view is supported in such fictional works as The Secret Book of Gnomes.
According to certain medieval beliefs, Gnomes were deformed, usually with a hunchback, and were led by their king, Gob, who ruled with a magic sword.

Garden Gnomes

The first garden gnomes were made in Gräfenroda, a town known for its ceramics in Thuringia, Germany in the mid-1800s. Phillip Griebel made terracotta animals as decorations, and produced gnomes based on local myths as a way for people to enjoy the stories of the gnomes' willingness to help in the garden at night. The garden gnome quickly spread across Germany and into France and England, and wherever gardening was a serious hobby. Gnome manufacture spread across Germany with numerous other large and small manufacturers coming into and out of the business, each one having its own particular style of design. World War II was hard on the industry and most producers gave up then. Griebel's descendants still make them and are the last of the German producers, all others having moved production to Poland or China.
Traditional gnomes are made from a terracotta clay slurry poured into molds. The gnome is removed from the mold, allowed to dry, and then fired in a kiln until it is hard. Once cooled the gnome is painted to the level of detail desired and sent to stores to be sold to consumers. More modern gnomes are made from resins and similar materials.
Garden gnomes were first introduced to the United Kingdom in 1847 by Sir Charles Isham, when he brought 21 terracotta figures back from a trip to Germany and placed them as ornaments in the gardens of his home, Lamport Hall in Northamptonshire. Only one of the original batch of gnomes survives: Lampy, as he is known, is on display at Lamport Hall, and is insured for one million pounds.
Garden gnomes have become a popular accessory in many gardens. They are often the target of pranks, known collectively as gnoming: people have been known to return garden gnomes "to the wild", most notably France's "Front de Liberation des Nains de Jardins" and Italy's "MALAG" (Garden Gnome Liberation Front). Some kidnapped garden gnomes have been sent on trips around the world (the travelling gnome prank; this later became the basis for Travelocity's "Roaming Gnome").
The practice of stealing garden gnomes is also sometimes referred to as "Gnome Hunting".
Gnomes are often depicted as having beards and are typically males, and usually wear red hats and are known to smoke pipes. They are made in various poses and pursuing various pastimes, such as fishing or napping.
Gnomes have become controversial in serious gardening circles in the UK, and have been banned from the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show as the organisers claim that they detract from the garden designs. Gnome enthusiasts accuse the organisers of snobbery because they are popular in working class and suburban gardens.

Gnomes In Popular Culture

Gnomes are often used in fantasy stories for their cunning roles, normally as an inventor. Other reasons that gnomes are used in many games and stories are because of their funny nature, appearance, and awkward behaviors, so Fantasy authors will sometimes employ gnomes, as elementals, in their fiction.
Particularly noteworthy is the phonetically spelled Nome King of the Oz books. Although the Wicked Witch of the West is the most famous of Oz's villains (thanks to the popular 1939 film The Wizard of Oz), the Nome King is the closest the book series has to a main antagonist. He appears again and again to cause trouble for the Land of Oz.
In modern fantasy games such as Dungeons & Dragons,EverQuest, and World of Warcraft, gnomes are often included as a playable race. They are commonly portrayed as large-headed humanoids about a meter in height, displaying characteristics such as a cheery temperament, a high degree of intelligence coupled with curiosity and poor judgment, and an unusual talent when it comes to either using magic or inventing and building technology, depending on the setting. These attributes not found in traditional stories about gnomes largely originated with the playable gnomes in Dungeons and Dragons, as well as the tinker gnome variant in the Dragonlance setting. World of Warcraft takes a similar approach with gnomes as inventors. RuneScape has gnomes as a race of both malevolent and benevolent small-sized inventors who have been known to study ogres. In the RPG, Tales of Phantasia, gnomes are short creatures dwelling in a cave who guard the spirit of Earth, known as Gnome. The spirit Gnome is known as an enchanted clay beast and when summoned appears as a large group of falling missiles.
In the Harry Potter series, gnomes are considered garden pests and appear to be more akin to animals than intelligent beings. In the second book, Ron scoffs at the garden gnome statues that Muggles keep, saying that they're chubby "Father Christmases" holding fishing rods, and generally depicted as doing things that real gnomes would never do. A "text book" written by J.K. Rowling to resemble the books that Harry uses in school (Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them) states that they can be ridden of if swung around in circles until dizzy and then thrown over the garden wall. They could also be eaten by a Jarvey, which is a ferrett-like creature. Gnomes are said to only reach a foot in height and have a large head with bony feet.
In Sydney, Australia, Gnomes are known not only for their garden based oppression, but for their cricketing prowess. A famous Sydney-based institution is The Gnomes Cricket Club. Operating within the North Shore Comp, this band of 'cricketers' have for years now closely followed many Gnomish traits - such as indulging in ale and card games, whilst simultaneously attempting to play the popular Australian game of cricket. These Gnomes are commonly known as Crisps.
During the 1980s a high profile bulletin board running on a bank of PC's was called The Gnome At Home. It was unusual in the fact that it had multiple lines in, and was a subscription service.
The final episode of the cult British TV comedy series Citizen Smith came as a joy to all those who loathe garden gnomes. After stealing a British Army tank from a firing range, the would-be, joke revolutionary, Smith, hides it in a friend's garage. Whilst away, one of the family, curious as the what is this vast vehicle, parked amongst the garden tools, climbs down inside and accidentally steps on the fire button. The result is that their neat garden is raked with high calibre, heavy machine gun fire, and the spectacular, slow motion, annihilation of the 30 or so garden gnomes scattered about it.
David the Gnome, a popular 1980's animated television series, featured the adventures of a tree-dwelling gnome and his wife, based on the children's books The Gnomes and The Secret Book of Gnomes by Rien Poortvliet and Wil Huygen.
In April 2007, Super Real Graphics published a self-contained graphic novel entitled "SRG Presents: Gnome," by Dave Dwonch. In this tale gnomes are real; Believed to be simple yard decorations, these “Garden Gnomes” once roamed the Earth as its greatest protectors. Long ago a curse was placed upon them, petrifying them until the day they were needed to protect the Earth once more. In 1956 the world was in peril… and one lonely gnome answered the call.
Met with critical acclaim, this all-ages tale incorporates elements of Gnome lore, 1950's Americana, Lovecraftian horror told with the dry wit that Dwonch has become been known for.



  • The Discarded Image

External links

  • 'Creepy gnome' terrorises town The Sun, March 11, 2008. Teenager Jose Alvarez records a "gnome" with his cell phone camera in General Guemes, Argentina. (Story received international coverage including a link on the Drudge Report Mar 11 2008. Update: A second video shot differently indicates this to be a hoax involving a marionette. See talk page.)
  • The Gnome's Tavern. A research site on gnomes.
gnome in Bosnian: Gnom
gnome in Czech: Gnóm
gnome in German: Gnom
gnome in Spanish: Gnomo
gnome in Esperanto: Gnomo
gnome in French: Gnome (créature fantastique)
gnome in Indonesian: Gnome
gnome in Italian: Gnomo
gnome in Dutch: Kabouter
gnome in Japanese: ノーム
gnome in Norwegian Nynorsk: Hagenisse
gnome in Polish: Gnom
gnome in Romanian: Gnom
gnome in Russian: Гном
gnome in Finnish: Gnoomi
gnome in Chinese: 地精

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Ariel, Befind, Corrigan, Finnbeara, Lilliputian, Mab, Oberon, Titania, Tom Thumb, adage, ana, analects, aphorism, apothegm, axiom, banshee, brocard, brownie, byword, catchword, cluricaune, collected sayings, current saying, dictate, dictum, distich, dwarf, elemental, elemental spirit, elf, epigram, expression, fairy, fairy queen, fay, goblin, golden saying, gremlin, hob, homunculus, imp, kobold, leprechaun, manikin, maxim, midge, midget, moral, mot, motto, oracle, ouphe, peewee, peri, phrase, pip-squeak, pithy saying, pixie, pooka, precept, prescript, proverb, proverbial saying, proverbs, puca, pwca, pygmy, rule, runt, salamander, saw, saying, sentence, sententious expression, shrimp, sloka, sprite, stock saying, sutra, sylph, sylphid, teaching, text, truism, undine, verse, wart, wisdom, wisdom literature, wise saying, witticism, word, words of wisdom
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1