Germanic goblins and the Indo-European fireplace

Peter Alexander Kerkhof 1
  • 1 Leiden University


In this article the etymology of the Modern German word Kobold ‘house spirit’ and its cognates is revised. It is argued that the Germanic root *kub- meaning ‘hut, small chamber’ which consitutes the first element of Modern German Kobold, is a loan from the Latin/Romance group of words deriving from Lat. cubīle, cubīculum. This Romance element may have replaced an earlier PGm. *gub- meaning ‘fire’, attested in Old Norse gufa ‘vapour, steam’, which goes back to the PIE root *ghu̯obh-. This theory is supported by French gobelin where the initial *g- is easily explained from Germanic *g-. The second element of the compound should be identified with the source of Finnish haltija ‘house spirit’ which derives from Gm. *haldija-. The compound was therefore Gm. *gub-haldija- and referred to the house spirit as the keeper of the fire, a concept well-known from Northern European folklore.

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Indogermanische Forschungen publishes contributions mainly in the areas of historical-comparative linguistics, historical linguistics, typology and characteristics of the languages of the Indogermanic language family. Essays on non-Indogermanic languages are also featured, provided that they coincide with the main focus of the journal with respect to methods and language history.