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A gnome is a mythical creature characterized by its extremely small size and subterranean lifestyle. The word gnome is derived from the New Latin gnomus. It is often claimed to descend from the Greek γνώσις gnosis, "knowledge", but more likely comes from genomos "earth-dweller", in which case the omission of e is, as the OED calls it, a blunder. Another possibility is that it comes from the Arabic نوم (Noum), which means sleep. It is also possible that Paracelsus simply made the word up.

Paracelsus includes gnomes in his list of elementals, as earth elementals. He describes them as two spans high, and very taciturn. Sometimes they are seen as a type of fairy, though at other times are seen as a distinct species in their own right.

There is some belief that Gnomes are in fact real, such as the Gnome sightings in Argentina, though these are disputed as hoaxes by skeptics.


Some confusion arises as the gnome is one of many similar but subtly different creatures in European folklore; mythical creatures such as goblins and dwarves are often represented as gnomes, and vice versa.

Gnomes feature in the legends of many of central, northern and eastern European lands by other names: a kaukis is a Prussian gnome, and barbegazi are gnome-like creatures with big feet in the traditions of France and Switzerland. In Iceland, gnomes (vættir) are so respected that roads are re-routed around areas said to be inhabited by them. Further east, tengu are sometimes referred to as winged gnomes.

According to certain medieval beliefs, Gnomes were deformed, usually with a hunchback, and were led by their king, Gob, who ruled with a magic sword.

Today, Gnomes are traditionally thought of as being small, bearded and wearing pointed, colourful, conical hats. They live in natural areas close to the Earth and care for wildlife. They are more benevolent than other folkloric creatures such as goblins. This traditional view is supported in such fictional works as The Secret Book of Gnomes. Also made popular by appearances made in many online games.

Garden gnomes

The first garden gnomes were made in Gräfenroda, a town known for its ceramics in Thuringia, Germany in the mid-1800s. Phillip Griebel made terracotta animals as decorations, and produced gnomes based on local myths as a way for people to enjoy the stories of the gnomes' willingness to help in the garden at night. The garden gnome quickly spread across Germany and into France and England, and wherever gardening was a serious hobby. Gnome manufacture spread across Germany with numerous other large and small manufacturers coming into and out of the business, each one having its own particular style of design. World War II was hard on the industry and most producers gave up then. Griebel's descendants still make them and are the last of the German producers, all others having moved production to Poland or China. Currently, there are an estimated 25 million garden gnomes in Germany.

Traditional gnomes are made from a terracotta clay slurry poured into molds. The gnome is removed from the mold, allowed to dry, and then fired in a kiln until it is hard. Once cooled the gnome is painted to the level of detail desired and sent to stores to be sold to consumers. More modern gnomes are made from resins and similar materials.

Garden gnomes were first introduced to the United Kingdom in 1847 by Sir Charles Isham, when he brought 21 terracotta figures back from a trip to Germany and placed them as ornaments in the gardens of his home, Lamport Hall in Northamptonshire. Only one of the original batch of gnomes survives: Lampy, as he is known, is on display at Lamport Hall, and is insured for one million pounds.

Garden gnomes have become a popular accessory in many gardens. They are often the target of pranks, known collectively as gnoming: people have been known to return garden gnomes "to the wild", most notably France's "Front de Liberation des Nains de Jardins" and Italy's "MALAG" (Garden Gnome Liberation Front). Some kidnapped garden gnomes have been sent on trips around the world (the travelling gnome prank; this later became the basis for Travelocity's "Roaming Gnome"). In 2008, a 53-year-old French man in Brittany was arrested on suspicion of stealing upwards of 170 garden gnomes.

The practice of stealing garden gnomes is also sometimes referred to as "Gnome Hunting".

Gnomes are often depicted as having beards and are typically males, and usually wear red hats and are known to smoke pipes. They are made in various poses and pursuing various pastimes, such as fishing or napping.

Garden gnomes are often viewed as "kitsch" and in poor taste. Gnomes have become controversial in serious gardening circles in the UK, and have been banned from the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show as the organisers claim that they detract from the garden designs. Gnome enthusiasts accuse the organisers of snobbery because they are popular in working class and suburban gardens.

It has been suggested by some scholars that the garden gnome is a descendant of the Greco-Roman fertility god Priapus, whose statue was often found in ancient gardens.

Gnome sightings

Over time, various reports have emerged of people claiming to have seen real, living gnomes.

Cottingley, England, 1917

One of the Cottingley fairies photographs taken in 1917 by two young girls depicts a gnome. When the duo confessed to faking the photographs in the 1980s, they continued to insist that the one that they had taken of the gnome was genuine.

Argentina, 2007-08

The Gnome sightings in Argentina is a reported wave of sightings of Gnomes, a traditional mythical creature, in General Güemes, Salta, Argentina that came to its climax in 2007. The craze was similar to that of the chupacabra, which had also happened in the Americas. Some reports claim that a survey showed that 90% of locals believed in the creature with over a hundred claiming to have actually seen one of the creatures, however contrasting reports claim that very few locals actually believe in it.

Locals had reported seeing gnomes (or duendes) for several decades, however reports increased in 2007 after railway workers reported seeing one run around the tracks. They reported seeing a knee height humanoid creature wearing a pointy hood who ran sideways.

The story was reported by El Tribuno in Argentina, and then The Sun in the UK. It was then picked up by Fox News in the USA, before becoming somewhat of an urban legend. Since then, many skeptics have declared the story to be false, claiming that the video used as the main evidence is faked and that reports of the beliefs were exagerated.

Various video recordings claiming to depict the creatures were uploaded onto websites such as YouTube. The majority follow the same formula of a group of teenagers getting scared by a gnome, and running away screaming. May 2007 Video In this video, lasting only 16 seconds, a group of teenage males are playing football outside when they are terrified by a gnome that appears to be only a few inches tall. October 2007 Video Two males are playing football indoors, when they are terrified at a creature that runs along the floor. March 2008 Video In March 2008, a video was caught of the creature by a local teenager on their mobile phone, Jose Alvarez, who commented on how he and some friends had encountered it one night.

"We were chatting about our last fishing trip. It was one in the morning. I began to film a bit with my mobile phone while the others were chatting and joking. Suddenly we heard something — a weird noise as if someone was throwing stones... We looked to one side and saw that the grass was moving. To begin with we thought it was a dog but when we saw this gnome-like figure begin to emerge we were really afraid... This is no joke. We are still afraid to go out — just like everyone else in the neighbourhood now... One of my friends was so scared after seeing that thing that we had to take him to the hospital.

The video quality is fairly blurred and dark. It goes from showing the teenagers chatting, to zooming in on something rustling about in some long grass several metres away. The creature then dashes across a field, running sideways, and this is filmed for a brief few seconds.

A second video, virtually identical to the first, but with certain distinct differences, was later released on the internet, confirming that two very similar, yet different, versions of the account were filmed, providing strong evidence that the video was faked.

Gnomes in popular culture

Gnomes are often used in fantasy stories for their cunning roles, normally as an inventor. Other reasons that gnomes are used in many games and stories are because of their funny nature, appearance, and awkward behaviors, so Fantasy authors will sometimes employ gnomes, as elementals, in their fiction.

In modern fantasy games such as Dungeons & Dragons, EverQuest, and World of Warcraft, gnomes are often included as a playable race. They are commonly portrayed as large-headed humanoids about a meter in height, displaying characteristics such as a cheery temperament, a high degree of intelligence coupled with curiosity and poor judgment, and an unusual talent when it comes to either using magic or inventing and building technology, depending on the setting. These attributes - not found in traditional stories about gnomes - largely originated with the playable gnomes in Dungeons and Dragons, as well as the tinker gnome variant in the Dragonlance setting. World of Warcraft takes a similar approach with gnomes as inventors.


In the movie Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amelie Poulain, the main character steals her father's garden gnome and has a plane stewardess she is familiar with take the Gnome to numerous places around the world, including New York, U.S.A. and Moscow, Russia. This is an example of the "Traveling Gnome" prank.


The popular children's TV series David the Gnome features very small gnomes as a kind, nature-loving race working to undo humanity's damage.

The final episode of the cult British TV comedy series Citizen Smith involves a homeowner destroying his prize garden gnome collection by accidentally stepping on the fire button in an armoured tank.


The Panzer crews of the Tiger tank detachment of the 2nd SS-Panzer Division "Das Reich" adopted a gnome symbol on their tank turrets. This was adopted during the Kursk offensive.


Particularly noteworthy is the phonetically spelled Nome King of the Oz books. Although the Wicked Witch of the West is the most famous of Oz's villains (thanks to the popular 1939 film The Wizard of Oz), the Nome King is the closest the book series has to a main antagonist. He appears again and again to cause trouble for the Land of Oz.

David the Gnome, a popular 1980's animated television series, featured the adventures of a tree-dwelling gnome and his wife, based on the children's books The Gnomes and The Secret Book of Gnomes by Rien Poortvliet and Wil Huygen.

In the Harry Potter series, gnomes are considered garden pests and appear to be more akin to animals than intelligent beings. In the second book, Ron scoffs at the garden gnome statues that Muggles keep, saying that they're chubby "Father Christmases" holding fishing rods, and generally depicted as doing things that real gnomes would never do. A "text book" written by J.K. Rowling to resemble the books that Harry uses in school (Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them) states that they can be ridden of if swung around in circles until dizzy and then thrown over the garden wall. They could also be eaten by a Jarvey, which is a ferrett-like creature. Gnomes are said to only reach a foot in height and have a large head with bony feet.

In April 2007, Super Real Graphics published a self-contained graphic novel entitled "SRG Presents: Gnome," by Dave Dwonch. In this tale gnomes are real; Believed to be simple yard decorations, these “Garden Gnomes” once roamed the Earth as its greatest protectors. Long ago a curse was placed upon them, petrifying them until the day they were needed to protect the Earth once more. In 1956 the world was in peril… and one lonely gnome answered the call. Met with critical acclaim, this all-ages tale incorporates elements of Gnome lore, 1950's Americana, Lovecraftian horror told with the dry wit that Dwonch has become since known for.

Author, Ambrose Bierce wrote in "The Devil's Dictionary" that gnomes became extinct in the year of 1764. The Devil's Dictionary is a tongue in cheek book labeled as "A guidebook for cynics".


"The Gnome" is a song by British psychedelic rock band Pink Floyd. It was written by the band's first leader, Syd Barrett. After the first few seconds that fade out of "Interstellar Overdrive," the song tells the tale of a gnome named Grimble Gromble. It appears on their debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.
"Gnomus" Is the title of one of the movements of Mussorgski's "Pictures at an Exhibition", depicting "A sketch depicting a little gnome, clumsily running with crooked legs." Hartmann’s sketch is believed to represent a toy nutcracker.

In 2007, St. Louis - based jam band The Earth Mafia composed and recorded a song called "Gnomes". It is loosely based on the South Park episode of the same name. It is currently available on the band's MySpace page

Gnomes can also be found on the cover of George Harrison's first solo recording, "All Things Must Pass".

See also



External links

  • 'Creepy gnome' terrorises town The Sun, March 11, 2008. Teenager Jose Alvarez records a "gnome" with his cell phone camera in General Guemes, Argentina. (Story received international coverage including a link on the Drudge Report Mar 11 2008. Update: A second video shot differently indicates this to be a hoax involving a marionette. See talk page.)
  • The Gnome's Tavern A research site on gnomes.

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