• hobnob •
Pronunciation: hahb-nahb • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, intransitive
Meaning: To associate with the elite on familiar terms, to socialize or snobbishly hang around with wealthy or powerful people.
Notes: Outside the US this word is still sometimes spelled with a hyphen, hob-nob, for reasons that will become evident in the Word History. This noun may be put to use as a verb without adjustment: "Horace hobnobs with the high and haughty." You probably won't find them in the dictionary, but you may encounter hobnobber "someone who hobnobs", hobnobbery "the act of hobnobbing", and hobnobbish "tending to hobnob", out there in the real world.
In Play: Today's Good Word implies spending time with the rich: "Phil Anders is now hobnobbing with wealthy families who have eligible unmarried daughters." Where wealth and power are disjoined, it may also imply socializing with merely the powerful: "If Hooker Crooke isn't a lobbyist, he certainly hobnobs with a lot of congressmen in Washington."
Word History: Today's Good Word goes back to two words in Old English: habbe "to have" and nabbe "to not have". Hab and nab would be a reduction of these two words pronounced the same as hob and nob, even though this spelling only appeared in the middle of the 18th century. Hob and nob soon became hob-a-nob and, ultimately, today's word (hence the hyphen outside the US). The phrase hob-nob began as an adverb with the sense of drinking together, probably with overtones of the "give and take" of chat, as Shakespeare used it. The meaning then melted into the sense of drinking camaraderie itself, as to hob and nob over a glass of sherry. This chumminess finally narrowed to a chumminess with only those of considerable means. (We are very grateful to Brian Goff for hobnobbing with us at least long enough to suggest we do today's very Good Word.)
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