The word gnome first showed up in English in Alexander Pope's 1714 narrative poem The Rape of the Lock, where it had pretty much the same definition as today. It comes from a French word with the same meaning and spelling, and that was borrowed in the sixteenth century from the writings of the Swiss polymath Paracelsus, who used it as a synonym of pygmy, which at the time described a fictional race of people in eastern Africa and southern India who could move underground completely unencumbered. Beyond that, gnome doesn't show up anywhere, and there's a pretty good chance that Paracelsus made up the word. It could be from Greek genomos, meaning "earth-dweller", but that would require him to randomly drop an e. It could be from the Ancient Greek, or from a Greek word meaning "wisdom", but the Oxford English Dictionary regards that as "unlikely". Nope, folks, this was probably a typo.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.