Kidding someone earlier this week about their social plans, I said they should enjoy hobnobbing. That made me wonder where the word came from, so you get to share in what I learned.

In modern English, the term mostly means to socialize in a familiar way with others, particularly those of an elite status. In the not too distant past, however, it referred more specifically to enjoy drinks with others.

It derives from the Olde English terms habban (to have) and nabban (to not have). By the 1500s, habban nabban had been shortened to hab nab (to have or have not or hit or miss). By the 1700s, the words had evolved—probably slurred because of the effects of alcohol—to hobnob. The meaning had become specifically about toasting each other or, more specifically, to alternate buying drinks for each other.

So, the word applies well to socializing with friends who alternate treating each other.

As for the use with socially higher people? Perhaps we just want them to buy all the drinks.

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