A Reflection on “Good Morning”

“Good morning!” said Bilbo, and he meant it.  The sun was shining, and the grass was very green.  But Gandalf looked at him from under long bushy eyebrows that stuck out further than the brim of his shady hat.

“What do you mean?” he said.  “Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?”

“All of them at once,” said Bilbo.1

This section of Chapter 1 in The Hobbit makes me smile.  It is the first time either character speaks in the book and both lines are faultless examples of their signature personalities.  Bilbo speaks on impulse, an expression of the sunshine and green grass welling up in his heart.  Gandalf insists upon being Socratically exact and interrogates Bilbo as to his precise meaning.  I imagine the question goes over Bilbo’s head as he probably has never had to formulate the meaning of his sentences before.

When I say Good morning, I typically mean one or both of two things:  either that it is a good morning whether the person I am speaking to wants it or not, or that I wish him to have a good morning.

Good morning is, of old, both a greeting and a farewell.  It is largely an abbreviation of “I wish you a good morning,” and other phrases of that sort.  However, Good morning can be said in various tones to various people on various occasions and can mean any or all of the definitions Gandalf presented.

When Bilbo said “Good morning!…We don’t want any adventures here, thank you!”2 he was using Good morning in its farewell sense, though what he meant in tone and occasion was probably closer to Gandalf’s description when he replied,

“What a lot of things you do use Good morning for!…Now you mean that you want to get rid of me and that it won’t be good till I move off…To think that I should have lived to be good-morninged by Belladonna Took’s son, as if I was selling buttons at the door!”3 

Good morning has been used in various forms over the centuries, as “hello” was not introduced as a greeting until the mid-1800s.  Good morning, and other greetings mentioning the time of day are common in Shakespeare.  For example, “Good dawning to thee, friend”4 in King Lear and “Good morrow, sweet lord”5 in Hamlet.

The use of Good morning as a farewell is uncommon today, and I rarely hear it used save by those with a more archaic taste (such as myself).

Notes:

1J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, Chapter 1

2Ibid.

3Ibid.

4William Shakespeare, King Lear, Act II, Scene ii

5William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act V, Scene i

8 thoughts on “A Reflection on “Good Morning”

  1. I did not read The Hobbit until after I had first read The Lord of the Rings which I did first as a young teenager. I would have loved it if I had. It would have been my kind of story. But my introduction to Tolkien in the late 1960s came through our English teacher, Mr Humphries, and a small group of enthusiasts in my class who I admired.
    That interaction between Gandalf and Bilbo made me smile as well. As a polite English boy I always addressed my elders with a Good Morning. Not so with my school mates for whom Hi! would usually suffice. American informality had taken hold of our culture and manners through the influence of Hollywood. And I certainly expected my teachers to be like Gandalf, which some of the older ones were. Looking back my greeting was merely an expression of politeness. It was expected of me. Now I express my sincere hope that the morning will be good for the person that I have greeted. Even today in an English country parish, people, including the young, would be disappointed if I as their priest were to offer them any less. To ignore them would be hard to forgive.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I appreciate having your English perspective on this! As I was writing this post, I was wondering how the greeting has kept itself in England–especially as Tolkien himself was English and was writing from an English perspective.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Very much the world in which I grew up. It was, perhaps, a little too formal. Adults were known as Mr and Mrs or Miss. But you knew when you had moved from a formal relationship to a friendship. The use of the first name really mattered.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I do love the respect that comes with calling one’s elders by Mr., Mrs., or Miss.. The personal-ness of a person’s name is accentuated when it is used only in friendship.

          Liked by 3 people

  2. Just this morning, my 5-year-old brother told me that he finally realized what “good morning” means. “It’s short for ‘have a good morning.’ It makes sense now!” he told me. He was so pleased with himself for figuring this out. I just smiled and thought of Bilbo and Gandalf. (In fact, I can’t wish anyone a good morning without thinking of them.) 😉

    Also, isn’t “good dawning” a delightful greeting? I think I’ll keep it in mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am so relieved when I discover the meaning behind phrases and idioms that we abbreviate. Yes! “good dawning” is a most delightful greeting. I also shall have to keep it in mind. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

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