August 25, 2003
Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary
Who would have guessed that J.R.R. Tolkien once worked on staff at the Oxford English Dictionary? :-)
An OED newsletter article traces his early contributions when he joined the OED in 1919: selected words that started with the letter W such as waggle, waistcoat, wake, walnut, walrus, wampum, wan, and want.
Tolkien was very interested in the etymologies of words, and upon taking up a post at Leeds University was rumored to have had a lengthy lecture on the etymology of the world walrus. (And you thought your prof's lectures were boring...)
His more notable contributions to the OED began 50 years later, when he was asked for help on the definition of the word hobbit. The final version:
In the tales of J. R. R. Tolkien (1892-1973): one of an imaginary people, a small variety of the human race, that gave themselves this name (meaning ‘hole-dweller’) but were called by others halflings, since they were half the height of normal men.
Other Middle-Earth words that have been accepted by the OED include mathom, mithril, and orc. Now under consideration, perhaps for the next edition of the dictionary: balrog.