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The meaning and origin of the expression: Hubble-bubble


What's the meaning of the phrase 'Hubble-bubble'?

A 'Hubble-bubble' is a simple form of the hookah pipe in which the smoke bubbles through water in a coconut shell or other material.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Hubble-bubble'?

The meaning and origin of the phrase 'Hubble-bubble'.The term hubble-bubble has been used in newspaper stories recently as an allusion to the images of nebulas sent back from the Hubble Telescope which have a bubble-like appearance.

Of course, that isn't the origin of the expression, which dates from the 17th century.

Although hubble-bubbles are simple a form of hookah they actually pre-date hookahs by a hundred years or more, so it's more accurate to say that a hookah is an elaborate form of a hubble-bubble.

The first use of the expression hubble-bubble in English is in Sir Thomas Herbert's Some Years Travaile Into Afrique and the greater Asia, 1634:

The women ... esteeme much of Tobacco, and drinke it in long canes or pipes called hubble bubbles.

Herbert, who when he was at home, was Gentleman of the Bedchamber to Charles I of England, was sailing amongst the islands near to Mozambique. Whether hubble-bubble was a translation of a local expression or not we can't now be sure. It is certainly the case that, when the colonial English came across something native and primtive, they often invented rather condescending and childish reduplicated name for it - like fuzzy-wuzzy, mumbo-jumbo, or Bongo-bongo land.

Another travelogue records more detail about hubble-bubbles. that's in John Fryer's A new account of East-India and Persia, 1681. Fryer was visiting the Cape Verde Islands:

They invite us with an Hubble-bubble (so called from the noise it makes) a long Reed as brown as a Nut with use, inserted the Body of a Cocoe-shell filled with Water, and a nasty Bole just pressing the Water, they ram Tobacco into it uncut, out of which we may suck as long as we please.

I've seen it suggested that there is a connection between hubble-bubble and Shakespeare's lines from Macbeth:

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.

The rhyming is similar but there isn't a connection beyond that, Shakespeare was dead before anyone in England heard of hubble-bubbles.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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