Ever seen pictures in children’s books of wizened little trolls with red caps and wrinkled faces? Those are gnomes, imaginary characters popular in fairy tales and folklore. For some reason, they’ve lately become popular as garden statuary.
The gnome, a dwarf-like inhabitant of the earth, has long captured the imagination of children and adults alike — witness the popularity of gnome statues in gardens. Appropriately, the word gnome is perhaps (just perhaps!) from gēnomos, an unrecorded Greek word for "earth-dweller." Credit for the word is given to 16th-century Swiss alchemist Paracelsus. The red-capped creatures entered German and Swiss folklore, and in the 19th century became part of children's literature, usually serving as the guardians of various treasures.