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This is a revised and edited version of an essay that first appeared in my LiveJournal. I hope you may find it useful
TOLKIEN’S USE OF EXPLETIVES
I have often seen discussions in various on-line forums, of words that seem distinctly out of place in fanfiction set in JRRT’s Middle-earth. I am not here speaking of the occasional modernism or Americanism, such as the word “okay”. I am speaking here of the use of profane or obscene language, or even the use of milder oaths that have a modern sound to them. Curious as to what sorts of expletives and oaths the characters in his books did use, I searched through The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to see just what they did say in the way of “swearwords“.
'Ware! Ware!' cried Damrod to his companion. 'May the Valar turn him aside! Mûmak! Mûmak!' in the chapter "Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit",
Unless otherwise indicated, the exclamations are those used by hobbits. If someone of another race uses it, I indicate that.
I did find one use, in the entire works, of the word “damned”, used as an epithet, not as a curse, and that was by an Orc. I did not include epithets or insults. However, I found that even these were surprisingly mild.
I was also surprised at an exclamation I did not come across. I was certain that somewhere Bilbo used the phrase “Bless my buttons!” but I did not come across it anywhere. If I missed it, please let me know of its location!*
Expletive-- b : an exclamatory word or phrase; especially : one that is obscene or profane
Epithet-- a : a characterizing word or phrase accompanying or occurring in place of the name of a person or thing b : a disparaging or abusive word or phrase **
(Spoken by Bilbo unless otherwise indicated.)
In The Hobbit the two exclamations used most frequently were “Dear me!” and “Bless me!”
THE LORD OF THE RINGS
(Spoken by hobbits, unless otherwise indicated.)
You do not see any of the characters swearing “By Eru” or “By the Valar”. They do not use any of the profane, obscene or scatological oaths that are commonly heard in our modern society, or are seen between the pages of most fiction from the late twentieth or early twenty-first century. Yet the lack of these things do not seem unrealistic in the context of his world. And it helps to give his work a timelessness that of others seems to lack.
It is definitely something to keep in mind when writing fanfic set in his world. By making use of the words he used, or, if using words or phrases not on the above list, attempting to keep the flavor of the expressions he used, one may keep a little closer to the style and spirit of JRRT himself.
And it will help to keep one’s readers from being jolted out of Arda and being unexpectedly dropped back into our own world.
* I have since been told that this was used in the Rankin-Bass animated version of The Hobbit. I have been unable to verify if this is so; if it is, it certainly seems to fit the guidelines of using phrases that would seem to fit Tolkien’s own world.
** Merriam-Webster On-line Dictionary
***I used the Ballantine/Del Ray 1996 paperback edition of The Hobbit and the Houghton-Mifflin 2003 one volume paperback edition of The Lord of the Rings .
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