Originally, halfling comes from the Scots word hauflin, meaning an awkward rustic teenager, who is neither man nor boy, and so half of both. Another word for halfling is hobbledehoy or hobby. This usage of the word pre-dates both The Hobbit and Dungeons & Dragons. The German surname Helbling has a similar origin.
The original Dungeons & Dragons box set included hobbits as a race, but later editions began using the name halfling as an alternative to hobbit for legal reasons. Halflings have long been one of the playable humanoid races in Dungeons & Dragons, starting with the 1978 Player's Handbook. Halfling characters have appeared in various tabletop and video games.
Some fantasy stories use the term halfling to describe a person born of a human parent and a parent of another race, often a female human and a male elf. Terry Brooks describes characters such as Shea Ohmsford from his Shannara series as a halfling of elf–human parentage. Other fantasy works, such as J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, use "halfling" to describe beings that are half the height of men. In Jack Vance's Lyonesse series of novels, "halfling" is a generic term for beings such as fairies, trolls and ogres, who are composed of both magical and earthly substances. In Clifford D. Simak's 1959 short story "No Life of Their Own," halflings are invisible beings in a parallel dimension who, like brownies or gremlins, bring good or bad luck to people.
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