Articles, quizzes, and grammar tips for word-lovers everywhere

Hobbiton

Why did Tolkien use archaic language?

All words have life cycles. They are born, sometimes by a specific individual at a recorded moment, as was the case with grotty. The current first citation in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is from the 1964 film A Hard Day’s Night, in which George Harrison utters the word in response to some shirts. ‘I […]

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Henry Bradley: ‘sméaþoncol mon’

Henry Bradley

In the second instalment of an ongoing series on some of the Oxford English Dictionary’s editors, following on from an article about James Murray, Peter Gilliver looks at the life, work, and legacy of Henry Bradley. An obituary is often the place where people first really find out about a person. In the case of Henry Bradley, the […]

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Whale-horses and morses: Tolkien and the walrus in the OED

Whale-horses and Morses: the Walrus in the OED

With the once-in-a-lifetime visit by a young male walrus to the island of North Ronaldsay in Orkney making the news on 3 March, it seems like a good time to look back at the coincidence of one particularly famous Oxford lexicographer’s tussle with the history of the word ‘walrus’, and an earlier visit by a […]

A definition of ‘hobbit’ for the OED

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In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. . . What’s a hobbit and how did J.R.R. Tolkien come by this word? Was it invented, adapted, or stolen? To celebrate the release of The Hobbit film and renewed interest in J.R.R Tolkien‘s work, we’ve excerpted this passage from The Ring of Words: Tolkien […]

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Tolkien’s etymologies

Tolkien's etymologies

I’m tremendously excited about the film version of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit that’s coming out in the UK this week. As a child, my favourite film was the 1978 animated version of The Lord of the Rings by Ralph Bakshi. When I say it was my favourite, I suppose I mean that it […]

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The Hobbit: Tolkien’s Old English fairy tale

The Hobbit: Tolkien's Old English fairy tale

As Peter Jackson celebrates his birthday this week many Tolkien fans across the world are eagerly awaiting the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, due to hit the cinemas in December. To many, The Hobbit is the clumsier younger brother of The Lord of the Rings, less epic and with a Middle Earth that […]

Invented languages

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Elen síla lúmenn’ omentielvo ‘a star shines on the hour of our meeting’ This is Frodo the hobbit’s greeting in High Elvish, or Quenya, to the Elf Gildor (The Lord of the Rings, book I, chapter iii)—perhaps the most celebrated utterance in an invented language, and arguably one of the most beautiful, both phonetically and […]

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