Medieval and Modern
Delving into the OED Tolkien had a love of language. In all of his writing’s whether it be the Lord of the Rings trilogy or earlier and later writings, he showed he had a mastery of the English language. While read through the three books, some words might seem oddly placed or used. In further research through the Oxford English Dictionary, one might realize the words could be obsolete terms or words that might no longer be commonplace in the daily conversational English we use today. Tolkien’s use of obsolete and unfamiliar words enhances the reading pleasure of The Lord of the Rings by giving a unique world a sense of unique language, therefore making Tolkien’s decision to use some of these words brilliant. The words I came across while reading are presented in no particular order, except the five I chose for further discussion coming towards the end of the paper. One word I came across was headstall. In the chapter “Flight to the Ford” Headstall is used in this manner:
“Suddenly, into view came a white horse, gleaming in the shadows, running swiftly. In the dusk its headstall flickered and flashed, as if it were studded with gems, like living stars.” Headstall is a now obsolete term according to the OED. It has 3 definitions, one regarding a piece of clothing worn on the head, one being a bandage for a flutist, and the other regarding a riding piece for a horse. In this context, Tolkien was using the third usage, meaning a decorate head piece for a horse.
In the chapter Minas Tirith, the words salver and flagon are used. I figured these words had something to do with chalices or silverware, but it was merely because of context.
“The men came bearing a chair and a low stool, and one brought a salver with a flagon and cups, and white cakes.” Flagon is a Middle English and French word that is also now obsolete. As my original guess predicted, it had something to do with a table setting. The OED has two definitions, both referencing a container of sorts for wine, or other drinkable liquids. Salver had two entries, one being someone who is a healer or “one who salves” which is definitely not how Tolkien used it. The other is again, an obsolete term, from French and Spanish origin to describe a serving tray for a feast. I found this incredibly interesting how different each entry was. Noisome is a word I came across and was completely wrong about the meaning, based on this context in the chapter The Black Gate opens:
“Then they broke the evil bridge and set red flame in the noisome fields and departed.” Earlier in the paragraph, the words dark and lifeless are used, so I guess the definition of noisome to be something similar, like bleak, desolate, something to that extent. The OED had four definitions; three of them regarding the word to something offensive, whether it is to another person or to smell, and the first, and what I think are the most applicable, being dangerous or harmful. The final word I chose to briefly describe is damasked. As seen in the chapter Fog on the Barrow-Downs:
“For each of the hobbits he chose a dagger, long, leaf-shaped, and keen, of marvelous workmanship, damasked with serpent-forms in red and gold.” At first I thought this would be some sort of blacksmithing related word, but found out it actually has to do with linens. The OED definition most closely related to this context, has meaning towards wrapping and decorating an item with richly figured weavings. I am assuming Tolkien meant the handles of these swords would have grand decorations on them, marking them as special in some way. One word I felt needed more discussion was the word burg. I saw this many times throughout the reading, and thought it simply meant something to the effect of a town, or city. One of Tolkien’s uses of this word comes in the chapter The Passing of the Grey Company:
“He will bear you swift as any horse by the roads that we…