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“Fool of a took” — Here’s What It Really Means

“Fool of a took” — Here’s What It Really Means

The rise and spread of English as a global language means that expressions in English come from all over the world. For that matter, some even come from other worlds.

Although these expressions, which reference favorite books and movies through a process called allusion, are fun to use, doing so can confuse others. Today, we’ll look at an example.
 

What did Gandalf mean when he called Pippin “Fool of a Took!”?

When Gandalf calls Pippin a fool of a Took, he’s referencing Pippin’s last name, Took. In Lord of the Rings, the Took family is known to act foolishly and, therefore, “Fool of a took” simply means “foolish took.” Gandalf says this to Pippin after he alerts the Balrog to their presence in the mines of Moria and several other times.
 

The grammar and meaning of ‘Fool of a Took’

There are two stumbling blocks to figuring out this strange expression.

The first is the phrase “fool of a.” This phrase sounds strange in American English, but in other dialects, such as Irish English, similar constructions are common.

The key to understanding it is to realize that “of a” serves a similar grammatical role to an adjective. In other words, “fool of a” is the same as saying “foolish.”

By the same token, describing someone as a “bear of a man” would mean they have bear-like qualities. Calling someone a “jewel of a teacher” would imply that their teaching skills are excellent.
 

Took: A Quick Explanation

The biggest question about this expression is probably the meaning of “Took.”

At first glance, this seems to be the past tense of the verb “to take.”

Sometimes, though, looks can be deceiving. The word “Took” is actually a reference to the book and movie called Lord of the Rings, written by JRR Tolkien.

First published in the 1960s, this classic fantasy series is about a group of unlikely heroes who work together to defeat the ultimate evil.

In particular, one of the characters is named Pippin Took. Hence, the word “Took” in the expression “fool of a Took'” comes from this character. See our essay on how to use hence in a sentence if you’re not sure what that means.
 

Hobbits and Tooks in the Lord of the Rings

In the Lord of the Rings, there is one species of people called hobbits. Hobbits are shorter than humans and have a reputation for being set in their ways and uninterested in adventure.

The Took family is one specific hobbit family. Unlike most hobbits, Tooks have a reputation for bravery, curiosity, and other unusual traits. The reason for this is never fully explained, but in some parts of Lord of the Rings other characters suggest it’s because a distant Took ancestor married a fairy and passed down some unusual traits as a result.

Interestingly, the word ‘Took’ itself may come from the Norse word ‘Tók,’ which means fool or foolish. Tolkien was an academic with an interest in Norse mythology, so that makes sense.

Whatever the reason, the Took family is a little strange. Among their other common traits are an inability to stay on task and a tendency to do foolish things.

Pippin is a member of the Took family. True to form, there are several parts in the series when he gets the other characters in trouble with his actions.
 

Why Gandalf Calls Pippin a Fool of a Took

The scene where Gandalf calls Pippin a fool is in the earlier part of the series, both in the books and in the movie. The group is traveling through some abandoned mines when Pippin, curious how deep a hole is, drops a stone down it.

The full quote from the book shows just how upset Gandalf is.

“‘Fool of a Took!’ he growled. ‘This is a serious journey, not a hobbit walking-party. Throw yourself in next time, and then you will be no further nuisance.'”

As it happens, Gandalf was right to be upset. This incident is what alerts a monster called the Balrog to the group’s presence in the mines, and it ultimately kills Gandalf.
 

Other Examples of Pippin’s Foolishness

Pippin doesn’t just mess things up in Moria. You can’t leave him alone for a hot minute before he does something thoughtless.

Later in the series, Pippin draws Gandalf’s ire again when he looks into a magical-looking glass called the Palantir while Gandalf is sleeping.

The Palantir is linked to Sauron, the evil wizard the group is trying to defeat, and when Pippin looks into it, he inadvertently reveals himself to Sauron. Gandalf is predictably frustrated, to the extent that he then takes Pippin with him away from the rest of the group.

In the end, the reason Gandalf calls Pippin a ‘Fool of a Took’ is just that his foolhardy nature makes him do foolish things.

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