Friday, November 30, 2012

Reconstructed lexis in Tolkien’s Middle English Vocabulary

Most of my regular readers are aware that Tolkien’s first published book was a glossary of Middle English compiled to accompany Kenneth Sisam’s collection of Fourteenth Century Verse and Prose. I won’t rehearse the history of the book here, but you can learn more at the Tolkien Gateway.

In the glossary, Tolkien offers etymologies for the words he glosses, and many of these etymologies contain reconstructions, or “asterisk-words”. These are word-forms that do not survive in any recorded text. Their form and shape have been reconstructed according to the principles of historical linguistics. Such words are of enormous interest to me in my philological work, just as they were to Tolkien in his. I found myself wishing that I had a list of the words Tolkien had reconstructed, so I made one.

As a public service for the linguistically minded, here is the complete list of the asterisk-words from Tolkien’s Middle English Vocabulary, arranged by language and then alphabetically. I had thought this to be a complete list, but seemingly I missed quite a few words in the initial compilation. See Diego Segui’s comments below! Eventually, I’ll update the list here in the main blog post, but it may take a little time.

The headword in the glossary where the asterisked etymology may be found is given in boldface. I think that all the abbreviations I’ve used will be obvious to anyone who would actually have an interest in this list, but if not, just ask. And if anybody spots any typographical or other errors, please let me know. Typing these out almost gave my word processor a seizure! Enjoy! :)

OLD ENGLISH (“frequently differ[ing] from the normal West-Saxon”)

*ǣniges cynnes, later ME eny kyns; at Eny
*alra cynna; at Alkyn
*be līfe; at Belyue
*be-cwiss, rel. to be-cweþan; at Biqueste
*blencan, poss. identical with blencan; at Blenk
*brēo; at Bre
*cāpe, from ML cāpa; at Cope
*clēat; at Clete
*cyllan; at Kille
*dasian, cf. darian, ON dasa-sk; at Dase
*dawe; at Daw
*dearf-, cf. ON djarf-r; at Derffe
*dingan, cf. dencgan, ON dengja; at Dynge(n)
*dræht; at Draught
*dūfe, cf. ON dúfa; at Dowue
*for-fǣran; at Ferde
*halian, from OFris halia or OFr haler; at Hale
*hecg; at Hegges
*hlysnan, ONth lysna, infl. by hlystan; at Lystens
*hyppan, cf. hoppian; at Hypped
*lēfn–, from *lau(h)mni–, cf. Goth lauhmuni; at Levyn
*lēof-man; at Lemman
*lēomian, cf. ON ljóma; at Leme
*mylnere; at Mullere
*naglas; at Naule
*nēdig; at Nedy
*on-bufan, var. of abufan; at Aboue(n)
*pīn; at Pine
*pīpian; at Pypynge
*rāmian; at Rome
*rīfe, var. of rȳfe; at Rife
*ryccan; at Ryched
*salu; at Sale
*scǣre, rel. to scīr, cf. ON skǽr-r, skír-r; at Scere
*slūmerian, cf. slūma; at Slombrende
*smīlian, rel. to MHG smielen, Swed smila; at Smyle
*snēowan, var. of snīwan; at Suewe
*solgian, cf. solian; at Solowe
*spræg, cf. spraec; at Sprai
*stēorne, var. of stȳrne; at Sturn(e)
*stertan, var. of styrtan; at Start
*strāc, rel. to strīcan; at Strok(e)
*talcian, rel. to talu; at Talk
*þeorc; at Þerk
*toht, rel. to tēon; at ToȜt
*tollian; at Tolled
*untō, cf. OS untō (prep.), Goth, untē (conj.); at Vnto
*widr(i)an; at Widder
*ymb(e)-þencan, cf. ymbe-þanc, but prefix infl. by ON umb; at Vmbethoncht
ān + *hǣdu; at Onehed
+ *ryccan; at To-rochit
+ *rittan; at To-rett
wōd + *hǣdu; at Wodehed


*, cf. OE ; at Cou
*certel, cf. OE cyrtel; at Kirtel(l)
*scettan; at Vnschette


*anowrned; at *Anowrned
*blissefulest; at Blisseful
*kyþeȜ (MS lyþeȜ); at Kyþe


*demeur, in demeurement; at Dimuir


be + *veila; at Beweile
*bredd–, cf. Swed. bräddfull; at Bretfull
*dreog–, later drjúg-r; at Dregh
*myk(i)-dyngja; at Mydyng
*stern–, later stjarna; at Starne
*þéht–; at Tyste
*þoh, or unacc. form of OE þah; at ÞaȜ(e)
*wrá; at Wro
*wrang–; at Wrang(e)
*þoh, later þó; at Þogh


  1. Thanks a lot for this list. There is also *pîn s.v. Pine. This is given in the O.E.D. (1st ed.); I think it would be interesting to check Tolkien's etymologies against the O.E.D. (and other literature available to him) to see if at any point he offers any innovation. It would be unlikely, as his M.E.V. was intended to be just a companion to Sisam's anthology, not a research work per se.

    In The Ring of Words there is an excellent section on the M.E.V. which you surely know, calling attention on the astonishing amount of work Tolkien must have put into it - a fact which is disguised by the apparent simplicity of its entries. There the authors note that Tolkien acknowledges his reliance on the O.E.D. "especially for the etymologies" (37).

  2. Thanks for taking the time to post this!

  3. Thanks very much for the addition, Diego. I’ll get that one added to the list.

  4. I did an OCR on a digital copy and got the following forms that weren't in your list; maybe you wish to add them too:

    OE *boþm s.v. Boþem
    ON *banke s.v. Bonk(e)
    ONFr. *chiboule s.v. Chibolles
    OE *cléngan s.v. Clenge3
    OE *drūhþ- s.v. Drought
    OE *dylle s.v. Dull
    AFr *entrelude s.v. Entyrludes
    OE [fals] + *hǣdu s.v. Falshed
    OE *fician s.v. Fyked
    OE *flegel, fligel s.v. Flayles
    OE *flǣming s.v. Flemmynges
    OE god + *-hǣdu s.v. Godhede
    OE *got- s.v. Gote3
    OE *grǣtan s.v. Grete
    *grindlaik s.v. Gryndel
    OE *grindel + stan s.v. Gryndel-ston
    OE *hām-līce s.v. Homely
    OE *(ge-)cnāwlǣcan s.v. Knoweleche
    ONFr. *ca(u)ngiūn s.v. Kongons
    OE *cyttan s.v. Kutten
    ON *meuk- s.v. Meke
    OE *for þam ānum + adv. -es s.v. Nones
    OE *púnd s.v. Pond
    OE *scaterian s.v. Schaterande
    OE *scēpa s.v. Schep
    Kt. *scerte s.v. Schert
    OE *sciell, scyl s.v. Schille
    ON *skiwj- s.v. Skewe
    OE *scrīc(i)an s.v. Skryke
    *Stald s.v. Stold
    OFr. *teme s.v. Teme
    OE *trystan (y long/short), ON *trýsta s.v. Trist
    *Trod s.v. Trow(e)
    ON *un-saht- s.v. Vnsoght
    ON *weht- s.v. Wecht
    ONFr. *wile s.v. Wiles

    Also emendation *Euilak s.v. Emlak (names section). Note that s.v. Sturn(e) it says stýrne, stéorne with acute, not stȳrne, stēorne. The OCR missed a few from your list, so there may still be a couple left.

  5. Yikes, Diego, I'm astonished I could have missed that many! Thanks for the additions, which I will review when I have a little bit more free time. Assuming I confirm them all, then yes, I'll definitely add them to the list, with gratitude for the assistance. As for the Proper Names, I omitted them deliberately.

  6. I spot-checked some of these, and it looks like you’re right. I must have been half-asleep when I compiled this list! And it is rather numbing work, anyway, so perhaps that excuses some of the oversights. If nothing else, this proves the value of computer-aided analysis. I’ll add these to the list, and let me encourage you to double-check my list from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight too, assuming you feel motivated to do so.

  7. I had started to check the Gawain list at the same time, but then realised that my copy was Davis' second edition. Anyway I collected the differences in a PDF file:

    But you'll have to check whether the new items are already in the first edition. Maybe it would be worthwile to record Davis' changes separately too. You list is in the first column, differences in the second.

    I hope this helps. I agree this is tiresome, but certainly this type of work makes the basis for much more exciting research later.