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Dreamflower's Musings  by Dreamflower

This is a revised and edited version of an essay that first appeared in my LiveJournal.  I hope you may find it useful 


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“.

There are surprisingly few of these, considering the number of words he wrote, and the amount of dialogue that is contained in the books. I was a bit arbitrary. I did not include, for example, Orc speech, or the sounds the Ents made. I have listed each one only once, in the order in which they appear. I did not include battle-cries, such as “Elendil!” or “Death!”. I also did not include those occasions when characters cried out in Elvish, calling upon Elbereth or the Valar, except for one. That was the cry Frodo made at the Ford of Bruinen, and I was a bit iffy about that. Technically, he is using it as an oath rather than calling upon her. But it was definitely not done lightly. This is the only use I came across using the name of Elbereth in that particular way. The other usages of the name of Elbereth seem to be more along the lines of an invocation, and in the cases of Frodo and Sam, seem almost to be made without conscious volition.

Eru is never referred to by name. The Valar are only referred to twice. Once is an invocation by Damrod: and the second is at Aragorn’s coronation, as a blessing by Gandalf.

'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.)

“Good gracious me!”
“Dear me!”
“Bless me!”
“Confusticate and bebother…”
“struck by lightning!”
“Curse his name!” (Thorin)
“Great elephants!” (Gandalf)
“Bless us and splash us…” (Gollum)
“Curse us and crush us…” (Gollum)
“Good heavens!” (first by Dori, then Beorn, then some of the other Dwarves)
“Upon my word!” (Thorin)
“By the beard of Durin,” (Thorin)
“Well, I’m blessed!”
“Thank goodness!

In The Hobbit the two exclamations used most frequently were “Dear me!” and “Bless me!”


(Spoken by hobbits, unless otherwise indicated.)

“Well, well, bless my beard!” (Gandalf)
“Lor' bless me!”
“Good heavens!”
“Thank goodness,”
“…I’m blest…”
“bless you,”
“Oi! Oi!”
“Oh, indeed!”
“By Elbereth and Lúthien the Fair…” (spoken by Frodo at the Ford of Bruinen)
“Alas!” (used first by Legolas, and then by various and numerous characters of several races, including the hobbits)
“Ai! Ai!” (Legolas)
“Hi!” (not used as a greeting)
“Hullo!” (not used as a greeting)
“Well, well!”
“…in the name of wonder…” (Gandalf)
“Ninnyhammers! Noodles!”
“Snakes and adders!”
“Curse him!”
“…what the plague…”
“O dear, o dear!”
“O come!”
“How splendid!”
“Well now!”
“Dear me!”
“Bless me!”
“O great glory and splendour!”

In The Lord of the Rings the exclamation most frequently used was “Alas!”.

That’s it. In 306 pages of text in The Hobbit and 1,008 pages of text in The Lord of the Rings (not including the Prologue or Appendices), these were all that he used. The majority of them were used no more than once. Of the hobbits, Sam had the most widely varied stock of oaths, and by far most of the ones near the end of the list come from him--nine of the last seventeen, in fact.

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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