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1 Lambert: Did I ever tell you about the time my Uncle Bilbert was put in charge of the Shire council?
1 Alvissa: No...
2 Lambert: Nobody ever wanted to fill out all the bureaucratic forms, but Bilbert succeeded in getting people to fill them out eagerly.
2 Alvissa: How?
3 Lambert: He used a special liquid of <ahem> his own devising in the fountain pens.
3 Alvissa: You don't mean...?
4 Lambert: Yep. It was a hobbit form ink substance.
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2023-01-21 Rerun commentary: I believe I haven't mentioned this before, but "The Shire" as in Tolkien's works probably sounds a lot more exotic to people who live in countries that don't actually have shires.
The word "shire" is an Anglo-Saxon word, which means essentially the same thing as a "county". Most of England's county names actually end in -shire; for example: Cambridgeshire, Cheshire, Nottinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Yorkshire, etc. Historically, administrative divisions of England were named shires during the Anglo-Saxon period, but after the Norman conquest in 1066, they became known as counties, although many retained the -shire suffix.
There were a few shires in the United States in the 17th century, mostly established in Virginia in 1634. However within just a few years these divisions were relabelled as counties, and virtually nobody knows that they used to be shires.
In Australia, however, where I live, shires are common and in current use. The four most populous of Australia's six states (New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, and Western Australia) all predominantly use the term "shire" to refer to local administrative regions analogous to counties in other countries. (South Australia favours the term "district", while Tasmania uses "municipality".)
One shire in particular, the Sutherland Shire in southern Sydney, is in fact commonly known as "The Shire". It's quite common for one of my friends to say he's going "on a trip to The Shire" - and we all know what he means, as he has family living in that part of Sydney.
So if you want to feel like a hobbit and visit The Shire, just come to Sydney.
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