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Select Primitive Elvish Roots: MAL-MAY

MAL “yellow, gold”

This was the root for Elvish words meaning “yellow” for much of Tolkien’s life, though with some minor variations. It appeared as ᴱ√MALA² “yellow” (usually mali-) in the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s with derivatives like ᴱQ. malina “yellow” and ᴱQ. malikon “amber” (QL/58). It also appeared in a list of M-roots at the end of that section (QL/63). It had derivatives in the contemporaneous Gnomish Lexicon such as G. malon “yellow” and G. malthos “butter cup” (GL/56).

In The Etymologies of the 1930s it seems Tolkien first gave this root as ᴹ√MAL (EtyAC/MAL) but rejected this and replaced it with ᴹ√SMAL “yellow” (Ety/SMAL). It had derivatives like ᴹQ. malina/N. malen “yellow”, ᴹQ. malta/N. malt “gold (as metal)” and ᴹQ. malo/N. hmâl “pollen, yellow powder” (< ᴹ✶smalu), with some revisions in Noldorin forms as Tolkien vacillated on whether or not primitive sm- resulted in voiceless nasal hm- or a voiced nasal m-.

This √SMAL vs. √MAL variation seems to have continued into Tolkien’s later writings, as seen in Common Eldarin: Noun Structure from the early 1950s where ✶malu >> ✶smalu “dust, grit” (PE21/80), probably a later iteration of ᴹ✶smalu “pollen, yellow powder” from The Etymologies. But it seems Tolkien settled on √MAL as evidenced by the extended root √MALAT “gold” from the Shibboleth of Fëanor from 1968 (PM/366).

MAN “good (morally), blessed, holy, unmarred, free from evil; [ᴹ√] holy spirit”

This root for “(morally) good” and “holy” things dates back to Tolkien’s earliest versions of Elvish, probably due to its long-standing connection to the name Q. Manwë, one of the most stable names in Tolkien’s Legendarium. The unglossed root ᴱ√MANA appeared in the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s with derivatives like ᴱQ. mane “good (moral)” and ᴱQ. manimo “holy soul” (QL/58). Derivatives like G. mani “good (of men and character only), holy” and G. manos “spirit that has gone to the Valar” also appear in the contemporaneous Gnomish Lexicon (GL/56).

In The Etymologies of the 1930s ᴹ√MAN “holy spirit” appeared with derivatives like ᴹQ. manu/N. mân “departed spirit” (Ety/MAN). Earlier versions of the entry had the gloss “holy” (EtyAC/MAN), and an earlier version of the entry for ᴹ√MBAD has MAN- “blessed” (EtyAC/MBAD).

The sense “good, blessed, holy” were retained in Tolkien’s later writings, though sometimes the root was given in its augmented form √AMAN. In Quenya Notes (QN) from 1957, √MAN was contrasted with √ARA which also meant “good”, but with the nuance of one specimen that is “good of its kind” and hence “excels, without necessarily implying that others are bad or marred” (PE17/147). Elsewhere in QN Tolkien elaborated on the meaning of √MAN in more detail:

√MAN “good”. This implies that a person/thing is (relatively or absolutely) “unmarred”: that is in Elvish thought unaffected by the disorders introduced into Arda by Morgoth: and therefore is true to its nature & function. If applied to mind/spirit it is more or less equivalent to morally good; but applied to bodies it naturally refers to health and to absence of distortions, damages, blemishes, &c (PE17/162).

In Definitive Linguistic Notes (DLN) from 1959, √AMAN “good (morally), holy, blessed, free from evil” was contrasted with √AYA(N) “treat with awe/reverence” and √MAGA “good (physically)” (PE17/149). In The Shibboleth of Fëanor from 1968, Tolkien said the root meant “blessed, holy” and was adapted from Valarin (PM/357 note #18), which is consistent with the fact that its derivatives were almost entirely limited to Quenya and not Sindarin; where derivatives do appear in Sindarin, such as S. Avon the equivalent of Q. Aman (PE17/162), they were probably loan words from Quenya.

MAP “take away, take hold of, grasp, [ᴹ√] lay hold of with hand, seize”

This root was connected to grabbing things by hand for most of Tolkien’s life. It first appeared as ᴱ√MAPA “seize” in the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s with derivatives like ᴱQ. map- “seize, take” and ᴱQ. maptale “robbery” (QL/59). In the contemporaneous Gnomish Lexicon its main derivative was G. mab “hand” (GL/55). In the Gnomish Lexicon, Tolkien did redefine mab as a dual form of G. “hand”, but it was later restored as an independent word and survived all the way into Sindarin as S. mâb “hand”.

The root reappeared as ᴹ√MAP “lay hold of with hand, seize” in The Etymologies of the 1930s with a similar set of derivatives (Ety/MAP). √MAP was mentioned again in the late 1960s in notes on Eldarin Hands, Fingers and Numerals, with glosses like “take hold of, grasp” (VT47/7) and “take away” (VT47/20). But in these same notes Tolkien made the somewhat shocking decision to abandon this root, proposing instead that S. mâb was derived from CE ✶makwā “handful” (VT47/6). For purposes of Neo-Eldarin, I would ignore this very late idea, since √MAP appears so regularly in Tolkien’s earlier writings.

MASAG “*sticky, [ᴹ√] knead, make soft by rubbing, kneading”

The root ᴹ√MASAG “knead, make soft by rubbing, kneading” appeared in in The Etymologies of the 1930s with derivatives like ᴹQ. maksa/N. moe “soft, pliant” and ᴹQ. makse/N. moeas “dough” (Ety/MASAG). It reappeared in the Outline of Phonology from the early 1950s as unglossed √MASAG with derivatives like ✶mazgō “sticky substance” > Q. maxo “mire”, S. madha “mud” (PE19/101). It thus probably had a similar meaning as the one it had in the 1930s, perhaps “*sticky”.

MAT “eat”

This was the root for eating words for all of Tolkien’s life, appearing very regularly. It was ᴱ√MATA “eat” in the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s (QL/59), ᴹ√MAT “eat” in The Etymologies of the 1930s (Ety/MAT), and √MAT “eat” in etymological notes from the late 1960s (VT48/26), among its many other appearances. This puts it among the most conceptually stable of Elvish roots.

ᴱ√MAÞA “dusk”

This root was given as ᴱ√MASA¹ “dusk” in its main entry in the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s, but its Gnomish form math- indicates the true root was ᴱ√MAÞA (QL/59). This was clarified in a list of root at the end of the M-section in the Qenya Lexicon (QL/63) and its representation as maþ- in the contemporaneous Gnomish Lexicon (GL/59). Its most notable use in the Legendarium was in the name G. Umboth-muilin “Pools (muil-plural) of Twilight (umboth)”, where G. umboth or umbath “nightfall” was derived from a strengthened form of the root, ᴱ√mbaþ- (GL/75). However, in later writings this name was reconceived as Ilk. Umboth Muilin “Veiled (muilin) Pool (umboth)”, with the first element umboth meaning “large pool” (Ety/MBOTH, MUY). The name was ultimately replaced with S. Aelin-uial (S/114), by which point the early root ᴱ√MAÞA was long abandoned.

MAY “excellent, admirable, beautiful; make [art]; suitable, useful, proper, serviceable; right”

A root appearing in Tolkien’s later writings with a variety of glosses: √MAY “make (in artistic sense as ποιήτης [Greek: make, create])” in Quenya Notes (QN) from 1957 (PE17/145, 163), {√MAGA >>} √(A)MAY “suitable, useful, proper, serviceable; right” in Definitive Linguistic Notes (DLN) from 1959 but this note was crossed through (PE17/172), √MAY “excellent, admirable” elsewhere in DLN (PE17/172), again as √MAY “excellent, admirable” in notes contemporaneous to the Quendi and Eldar essay from 1959-60 (PE17/150, 163) and finally as √MAY “beautiful” in notes from the late 1960s (VT47/18).

Two notable derivatives of √MAY were S. mae “well” (PE17/17, 163) and Q. Maia (PE17/163; VT47/18), but elsewhere these two words were derived from the root √MAG “good (useful)” (PE17/16, 162; PE19/46, 62, 75, 94). In the aforementioned notes from the late 1960s, however, Tolkien said “maga was distinct from maʒa and maya” (VT48/18). For purpose of Neo-Eldarin, I would assume the root √MAY was distinct from √MAG, having the meaning “excellent, admirable, beautiful” and by extension the creation of beautiful things such as art, to allow the retention of 1957 words like Q. maitar “artist” (PE17/163).

A possible precursor to this root is unglossed ᴱ√MAẎA from the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s with derivatives like ᴱQ. mai “too much” and ᴱQ. maira “excessive, strong” (QL/60); perhaps a more extreme version of its later sense “excellent”. The entry also included ᴱQ. mairu “(horse ?); mane, flowing hair”, but Tolkien marked this word with a “?”, perhaps indicating he was unsure it was from this root (QL/60).

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