“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).
1J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, Chapter 1
4William Shakespeare, King Lear, Act II, Scene ii
5William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act V, Scene i