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Scottish historical novelist Walter Scott has suggested that the Proto-Norse based the kobolds on the short-statured Finns, Lapps, and Latvians who fled their invasions and sought shelter in northern European caves and mountains.There they put their skills at smithing to work and, in the beliefs of the proto-Norse, came to be seen as supernatural beings.Another type of kobold haunts underground places, such as mines.A third kind of kobold, the Klabautermann, lives aboard ships and helps sailors.These kobold effigies were 30 to 60 cm (one to two feet) high and had colourful clothing and large mouths.One example, known as the monoloke, was made from white wax and wore a blue shirt and black velvet vest.

A tale from the Altmark, recorded by Anglo-Saxon scholar Benjamin Thorpe in 1852, describes the kobold as "a fiery stripe with a broad head, which he usually shakes from one side to the other..." A legend from the same period taken from Pechüle, near Luckenwald, says that the kobold flies through the air as a blue stripe and carries grain. Saintine, kobolds are the spirits of dead children and often appear with a knife that represents the means by which they were put to death. Gronin called our attention to the steady light, round, and about the size of a cheese plate, which appeared suddenly on the wall of the little garden directly opposite the door of the hut in which we sat.

tracing the word's origin through the Latin cobalus to the Greek koba'los, meaning "rogue".

The change to the word-final -olt is a feature of the German language used for monsters and supernatural beings.

Such pagan practices may have derived from beliefs in the mischievous kobalos of ancient Greece, the household lares and penates of ancient Rome, or native German beliefs in a similar room spirit called kofewalt (whose name is a possible rootword of the modern kobold or a German dialectal variant).

Kobold beliefs mirror legends of similar creatures in other regions of Europe, and scholars have argued that the names of creatures such as goblins and kabouters derive from the same roots as kobold.

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