Printable Version
Pronunciation: hah-bêl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: 1. To wobble, bob, to walk unsteadily or haltingly. 2. To tie the leg(s) (of a horse, for example) to prevent kicking or straying away. 3. To impede, obstruct, hamper, or restrict, as to hobble rescue efforts.

Notes: This verb may be used transitively or intransitively: you may hobble an animal or a person or you may yourself hobble along. A few writers have tried an adjective, hobbly, in the sense of "rough, uneven" as a hobbly road. My spellchecker doesn't like this word, so use it with extreme caution.

In Play: Hobbling is commonly the sign of ageing: "Noah Zarque hobbled over to the robber and socked him on the nose." Hobbling often accompanies leg injuries, too: "I saw Mildred hobbling along on her crutches at the mall yesterday." Finally: "Manley's bellowing hobbled efforts to rescue him from the sewer he had fallen into."

Word History: We aren't sure where hobble originates. It is, apparently, a cognate of Dutch hobbelen "rock, ride a hobby-horse; stutter". It could be a diminutive of hobben "to toss or rock" or even hop, which in Old English was hoppen. It seems impossible to link this word with hobby "pony" as in hobby-horse, since horses are most often hobbled. This sense of hobby was borrowed from Old French hobin "small horse, pony" (Modern French aubin). Here the speculation becomes rather "iffy". Someone suggested the French word was borrowed from English Hobin, a variant of the nickname Robin, a common name given to cart-horses. But I'm now so far out on this limb that I'm beginning to feel queasy. (We are happy that Dr. Margie Sved's effort to suggest today's Good Word was not hobbled in any way.)

Dr. Goodword,

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