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Old 03-29-2023, 03:21 PM   #1
Mithadan
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Puns by Tolkien

Way back in 2003, there was a thread here about Tolkien's linguistic puns and playfulness. http://forum.barrowdowns.com/showthr...highlight=puns Many members, far more deeply steeped in languages than I, posted to this thread and brought up a number of thoughtful points and humorous examples. I thought that this subject might be worth revisiting.

Some samples of Tolkien's wordplay are very obvious, see Proudfeet. As some noticed, many relate to Hobbits. Given the nature of our membership, some of the possible puns may be a bit of a reach, seeking significance where there is none.

Let's begin with one that has always seemed obvious to me. Sackville-Baggins. The name is mentioned in the old thread but the association I recognized was overlooked, or perhaps folks were being too polite. In various places in the opening chapters of LoTR, Tolkien contracts Sackville-Baggins to "S.B." Hmmmm. Son of a B***ch.

Celegorm, particularly in the Lays of Beleriand (and its commentaries) is portrayed as being a follower of Curufin, thoroughly dominated by him and perhaps a bit dull. CeleGORM. Per various on-line dictionaries, Gormless is British slang for stupid and slow to understand.

The epilogue for LoTR, which was omitted, was to include mention of a letter from King Elessar to Sam, years after the departure of Frodo and Bilbo from the Grey Havens, requesting that he, Merry, Pippin and various members of their families meet him at the borders of the Shire. Tolkien actually prepared multiple versions of the letter, written in tengwar that Tolkien may have wanted to include in the book. The letter includes a line (omitted from some translations), referring to Sam "who ought to be called Fullwise." As a poster in the prior thread, Selmo, noted, "Samwise" in Old English, might be translated as halfwit.

I know that there are many other examples. Thoughts?
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Old 03-29-2023, 05:25 PM   #2
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One of my favorite puns was elicited by Treebeard, when he said, "There are Ents and Ents, you know; or there are Ents and things that look like Ents but ain't, as you might say."

Interestingly enough, according to the OED, 'en't' and 'ent' are but two of many regional and nonstandard variations of 'ain't' (and from Oxfordshire yet!).

In addition, Tolkien would probably be aware of the following:

Quote:
The Middle English for have and has was han and hath (the latter form is remembered because the Authorized Version and Shakespeare use it). The way from hath not to hain’t is easy, the more so as -th in hathn’t probably had the value of th- in Modern English this. Dropping one’s aitches and adding them where they don’t belong is a telltale sign of many British dialects, in particular Cockney....

...In late Middle English, ain’t, by being a contraction of both isn’t and hathn’t, played its role very well indeed. As time went on, ain’t began to be used with all persons and came to mean both have not and am/is/are not.
https://blog.oup.com/2006/08/the_much_vilifi/
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Old 04-01-2023, 01:30 PM   #3
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Farmer Giles is loaded with them. I especially like this: "Dogs had to be content with short names in the vernacular: the Book-latin was reserved for their betters. Garm could not talk even dog-latin; but he could use the vulgar tongue."
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Old 04-01-2023, 08:56 PM   #4
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From this thread:

Smaug's name is an acknowledged pun: "The dragon bears as name – a pseudonym – the past tense of the primitive Germanic verb Smugan, to squeeze through a hole: a low philological jest."

"Derne" means "to hide", so Dernhelm was an aptly chosen name for someone in disguise.
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Old 04-02-2023, 12:47 PM   #5
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I have a very simple sense of humour.
Tolkien's quite modest description of himself, among the probably better known phrase, "I am a Hobbit (in all but size)" in Letter #213.

A simple sense of humour quite obviously would include puns; a love of puns was something Tolkien never lost. It was evident in his adolescent adventures with early language creation, animalic, where he puns upon the meaning of donkey, the "converse meaning" as he politely puts it, of *** (A Secret Vice). It is evident in his naming of his favourite tree, the pinus nigra in the Oxford Botanical Garden, as "Laocoon", for its twisted shape, which completely undercuts the very serious critical discussions of the sublime in the famous statue of the same name. As these examples suggest, Tolkien's puns were not limited to his philological bent.

As William Cloud Hicklin has said, Farmer Giles of Ham is loaded with puns. Names in particular are exceedingly punned upon. Galatea the cow being one (mythological sea nymph), Giles' wife's name Agatha another (a shrew rather than godly woman), and Garm, hardly the ferocious watchdog at the gate of Hell in Norse mythology, the points being incongruity between name and character, ludic fun pricking pomposity, subversion.

There is something of that in the choice of the name Nokes for the antagonist character in Smith of Wootton Major. The name has a philological history, which Tolkien remarks upon in his Guide to Names in The Lord of the Rings when discussing old Noakes of The Shire. But the significance for SWM also lies in Tolkien's personal symbolism. Historically the surname Nokes involves the adding of N (a linguistic property) to the Old English name meaning 'by the oaks'. But in Tolkien's private symbolism, oaks was a pejorative term for critics who could not see the value or worth of artistic or literary imagination. (In the symbolism, those who could see the value of literature, like that in Beowulf, were identified by birch). So the character who is utterly unable to appreciate or see anything fay is an oak. Tolkien makes the distinction clear when he has Nokes use the word 'fairy' while Alf the Prentice and Smith use 'fairie'. The pun of course goes to Tolkien's effort in SWM to theorise fairie.

A fair simpler use of names and punning is in Leaf by Niggle. I think most readers understand 'Niggle' to refer to the character's habit of excessive attention to trifling doubt. Yet the original meaning of 'niggle' is stingy or miserly and Niggle the character does resent the intrusions of people upon his time. The other pun belongs to the other character, Parish, when his name literally becomes the region that the two end up in, "Niggle's Parish".

What's in a name? A good giggle.
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Last edited by Bęthberry; 04-02-2023 at 04:30 PM. Reason: a fercious attack on those invading typos
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Old 04-02-2023, 02:27 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Bęthberry View Post
Tolkien's quite modest description of himself, among the probably better known phrase, "I am a Hobbit (in all but size)" in Letter #213..
Nice to see you around Bęth.

I am surprised Tolkien didn't honor the Hobbits as inventors of the "dad joke". And in that vein. it's the surprise asides as you are casually reading the books that I find hilarious.

Out of nowhere, you get Bullroarer Took swinging his wooden club and decapitating the Goblin King's head, which proceeded to fly 100 yards and land in a rabbit hole. According to Gandalf, "thus the battle was won and the game of Golf invented at the same time," with the name "golf" coming from the dead goblin king -- Golfimbul.

It's one of those, "wait...what?" moments that happen throughout The Hobbit, LoTR and Farmer Giles of Ham.
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Old 04-02-2023, 08:57 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Galadriel55 View Post
From this thread:

"Derne" means "to hide", so Dernhelm was an aptly chosen name for someone in disguise.
And "Grima" means "mask"- appropriate for a mole.
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Old 04-03-2023, 01:07 AM   #8
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This could become addictive

I wouldn't have thought Celeborn capable of puns, but ...

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'Boromir, and any that go with him seeking Minas Tirith, will do well to leave the Great River above Rauros and cross the Entwash before it finds the marshes. Yet they should not go too far up that stream, nor risk becoming entangled in the Forest of Fangorn.'
(Book 2, chapter 8, "Farewell to Lorien")
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Old 04-04-2023, 09:29 PM   #9
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How could we have overlooked this one?

Tolkien did not invent the name Inklings but he described it as a pun, Letter 298, p. 388 in Carpenter's Letters.
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I called the name a ‘jest’, because it was a pleasantly ingenious pun in its way, suggesting people with vague or half-formed intimations and ideas plus those who dabble in ink.
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Old 04-05-2023, 11:13 AM   #10
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Not a pun, but Burrahobbit is certainly wordplay. As is eleventy-first.
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Old 04-06-2023, 05:09 PM   #11
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Of course, Bilbo throwing shade on his relations ranks up there with puntastic sarcasm, if we can take the definition of "pun" to include the different possible meanings of a word or phrase (and perhaps the intention of said word or phrase):

Quote:
For ADELARD TOOK, for HIS VERY OWN, from Bilbo; on an umbrella. Adelard had carried off many unlabelled ones.

For DORA BAGGINS in memory of a LONG correspondence, with love from Bilbo; on a large waste-paper basket. Dora was Drogo's sister and eldest surviving female relative of Bilbo and Frodo; she was ninety-nine, and had written reams of good advice for more than half a century.

For MILO BURROWS, hoping it will be useful, from B.B.; on a gold pen and ink-bottle. Milo never answered letters.

For ANGELICA'S use, from Uncle Bilbo; on a round convex mirror. She was a young Baggins, and too obviously considered her face shapely.

For the collection of HUGO BRACEGIRDLE, from a contributor; on an (empty) book-case. Hugo was a great borrower of books, and worse than usual at returning them.

For LOBELIA SACKVILLE-BAGGINS, as a PRESENT; on a case of silver spoons. Bilbo believed that she had aquired a good many of his spoons, while he was away on his former journey. Lobelia knew that quite well. When she arrived later in the day, she took the point at once, but she also took the spoons.
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Old 04-28-2023, 11:17 AM   #12
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Not punning but some linguistic jousting between Boromir and Aragorn, from the chapter "A Journey in the Dark".

Quote:
Originally Posted by Boromir
'Then let us start as soon as it is light tomorrow, if we can,' said Boromir. 'The wolf that one hears is worse than the orc that one fears.'
Quote:
Originally Posted by Aragorn
'True!' said Aragorn, loosening his sword in its sheath. 'But where the warg howls, there also the orc prowls.'
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Old 05-29-2023, 02:39 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Bęthberry View Post
Not punning but some linguistic jousting between Boromir and Aragorn, from the chapter "A Journey in the Dark".
This passage always seemed a bit cheery to me, considering they are in mortal danger.
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Old 05-31-2023, 04:27 PM   #14
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This passage always seemed a bit cheery to me, considering they are in mortal danger.
I agree. It appears to come out of nowhere, the seeming camaraderie of two in competition to make the most unlikely thing to say.

I think Tom Shippey put his finger on what Tolkien might be doing here when he told the story of how his fellow team mates competed to make the greatest joke about his broken tibia and fibula after an accident in a rugby game. (One offered a very low price for his ticket to the evening dance. The other berated him for not passing the ball as he went down.) A school boy attempt to make him laugh in the moment of pain. (These were all boys at Tolkien's King Edward School and it struck me very much as schoolboy humour, which misses the modern programming not to laugh at other's or even one's own pain.) (This is in Shippey's Forward to Laughter in Middle-earth,p. 4. He is not discussing this passage, but the orcs' humour.)

To require this kind of external context seems to me to reflect a problem with the original text. I suppose there are several examples of competing egos between Boromir and Aragorn, particularly with their historical roles of Steward heir apparent and king, but I think Tolkien could have done a better job making this a more fitting competition between the two.
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Old 07-21-2023, 04:51 PM   #15
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I agree. It appears to come out of nowhere, the seeming camaraderie of two in competition to make the most unlikely thing to say.

...

To require this kind of external context seems to me to reflect a problem with the original text. I suppose there are several examples of competing egos between Boromir and Aragorn, particularly with their historical roles of Steward heir apparent and king, but I think Tolkien could have done a better job making this a more fitting competition between the two.
I can defintley see interchange as this sort gallows humor competetion between friends/rivals, but I did need it pointed out.
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Old 03-12-2024, 03:55 AM   #16
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One of my favorite puns was elicited by Treebeard, when he said, "There are Ents and Ents, you know; or there are Ents and things that look like Ents but ain't, as you might say."

Interestingly enough, according to the OED, 'en't' and 'ent' are but two of many regional and nonstandard variations of 'ain't' (and from Oxfordshire yet!).

In addition, Tolkien would probably be aware of the following:



https://blog.oup.com/2006/08/the_much_vilifi/geometry dash world
The Middle English roots of "han" and "hath" as predecessors to "have" and "has" are indeed intriguing. The transition from "hath not" to "hain't" is a natural evolution, especially considering the linguistic patterns and tendencies found in various British dialects, like dropping or adding letters in specific contexts.
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Old 05-15-2024, 03:04 AM   #17
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One of my favorite puns was elicited by Treebeard, when he said, "There are Ents and Ents, you know; or there are Ents and things that look like Ents but ain't, as you might say."

Interestingly enough, according to the OED, 'en't' and 'ent' are but two of many regional and nonstandard variations of 'ain't' (and from Oxfordshire yet!).
As WCH has noted, the river Isen should be pronounced Izzen. So it isn' the Isen and they ain't ents; good grief, Professor.

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