Word of the Day


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1. an imaginary little man in children’s stories who wears a pointed hat and can do magic
2. a stone or plastic model of a gnome, used in gardens for decoration

Origin of the word

The word gnome comes from the Medieval Latin term ‘gnomus’, which was used by the 16th century Swiss scientist Paracelsus, in reference to an elemental creature living on earth. He may have been inspired by the Greek word, ‘genomo’, meaning ‘earth-dweller’.


Traditionally, a gnome is a small supernatural spirit which lives on earth. Gnomes have been mentioned in children’s fairy tales since the 19th century. In literature, a gnome is usually a little person who may live underground or in hidden places. Sometimes they are referred to as being especially inventive or cunning.

Today, people frequently keep an ornamental gnome or two in their garden; they are usually painted in bright colours with a base of plastic, stone or concrete. Most are quite rotund in appearance, with a large hat and long beard. Known as garden gnomes, these figurines were first popularized in Germany, then brought to England in the late 19th century.

In June 2018, a Google Doodle game featuring garden gnomes was made available to play on the search engine’s homepage. The game’s introduction explained more about the gnome, mentioning the custom of keeping them in gardens for good luck. As Google is used by people around the globe, this game brought widespread attention to the history of the gnome.


“She lingered in that charming little garden to say hello to the gnomes, such a glorious infestation! How few wizards realize just how much we can learn from the wise little gnomes – or, to give them their correct names, the Gernumbli gardensi.”
(J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)

Related words

fairy, elf, troll

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

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