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Select Primitive Elvish Roots: THĀ-THER

ᴱ√THĀ/ATHA “ease, comfort, heal; be helpful; be willing to assist (in any work, etc.), agree, consent; [ᴹ√] forward”

Tolkien introduced the root ᴹ√THA in Quendian & Common Eldarin Verbal Structure (EVS1) of the 1930s to serve as the basis for the (Old) Noldorin future suffix -thā. Tolkien said: “This thā is probably in origin a defining adverb = then, next, since with time-reference the pronominal stem √THA in Noldorin referred forward” (PE22/97). Tolkien described a similar system for Sindarin in Common Eldarin: Verb Structure (EVS2) of the early 1950s: “The element thā is adverbial, and meant originally ‘then, next’. The pronominal stem the/tha when used in Sindarin with time-reference pointed forward to the future” (PE22/131).

In notes on Words, Phrases and Passages in the Lord of the Rings from the late 1950s or early 1960s, Tolkien assigned a disinct meaning for √ATH as “ease, comfort, heal”, forming the basis for the name of the healing plant S. athelas or Q. asëa aranion (PE17/49). In Definitive Linguistic Notes (DLN) from 1959 Tolkien gave √ATHA as the basis for a number of words such as verb Q. asya-/S. eitha- “to ease, assist” and prefix Q. as(a)-/S. ath- “easily” (PE17/148).

In Late Notes on Verbs (LVS) from 1969, Tolkien connected √THA and √ATHA as a “mono-consonantal reversible” root ÞĀ̆/AÞA combining these two senses. As Tolkien described it:

Its basic sense was probably “be helpful”, be willing to assist, in any work etc., agree, consent … this sense is obscured in the uses of aþa- with other verbs, it may be supposed to be the earliest sense, because of derivatives made from it, such as Q aþea (< apaya) name (as = “beneficial” ?) of a herb (PE22/165).

From this, Tolkien described as variety of derivatives, such as Q. aþumo “good companion”, S. natha- (< an-aþa-) “bring help to, save, rescue” and Q. þá or aþa “I agree”, or in longer form aþanye “I will (do so)”. In Sindarin, this verb developed into a sort of future inflection:

In S. the verb aþa, atha had become agglutinated to the verb stem, and formed a kind of “future”, expressing the intention of the subject, closely resembling in sense and uses English will (when not mere future): I will (I’ll) go, he will (he’ll) go, espec. in the 1st and 3rd persons. In the second person the implication of “will” of the subject is clearest in questions or negation (PE22/167).

As described in this document, the Sindarin verbal suffix -atha was not a true future, but was rather an expression of intent. Nevertheless, this document connected both prior senses of the roots √THA “future” and √ATHA “ease, assist, comfort” via a more basic sense of “be helpful”, with atha- “agree” > “I will” > (in Sindarin only) a future sense resembling English “I will [I intend to] go”. In this same document, however, Tolkien considered splitting out the medical senses of √ATHA into a distinct root √HATHA “treat kindly/make easy, (help to) cure”; see that entry for details.

THAG “oppress, crush, press”

Tolkien used a variety of similar root for “(com)press”, often used as a way of explaining the initial element of the name Q. Sangahyando “Throng-cleaver”. In the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s Tolkien had the root ᴱ√SAŊA “pack tight, press” with derivatives like ᴱQ. sanga “throng, tight mass, crowd” and ᴱQ. sanga- “pack tight, compress, press” (QL/81). Its Gnomish cognate G. thang “a crowd, crush, herd” implies the actual root was *ᴱ√ÞAŊA (GL/72).

The Etymologies of the 1930s had the root ᴹ√STAG “press, compress” with derivatives like ᴹQ. sanga “crowd, throng, press” and N. thang “compulsion, duress, need, oppression” (Ety/STAG). In etymological notes associated with Quenya prayers from the 1950s, Tolkien gave √THAG “oppress, crush, press” (along with a deleted fourth gloss “force”) with the derivatives Q. sahtië “pressure or force (to do something against one’s will or conscience)” (VT43/22). Tolkien’s continued use of Q. sanga “press, throng” and S. thang “pressure, oppression” indicate the ongoing validity of the root √THAG or √STAG.

THAN “kindle, set light to, fire, light”

Tolkien used this root primarily to explain the name S. Gilthoniel “Star-kindler”. In a 1955 letter to David Masson, Tolkien gave √THAN “kindle” as the basis for the perfect participle S. thoniel “kindler”, in contrast to S. thôn < ✶stŏna (PE17/82). In Words, Phrases and Passages in the Lord of the Rings from the late 1950s or early 1960s, Tolkien gave {√TON >> √TÁN >>} √THĂN/THĀN as the basis for the same name, but with the suffix S. -iel being a feminine suffix (PE17/23; MR/388).

The root √THAN from the 1950s might be a restoration of the unglossed root ᴱ√tan- from the Gnomish Lexicon of the 1910s with derivatives like G. tan “firewood” and G. tantha- “set light to, kindle” (GL/69), along with other forms like G. tôn “fire (on a hearth)” and G. tortha- “scorch” (GL/71). This may be reflected in the deleted forms in the aforementioned note: {√TON >> √TÁN >>} √THĂN/THĀN.

THAR¹ “[ᴹ√] across, beyond”

Tolkien used a similar set of forms for “(a)cross” for Elvish throughout his life. The earliest of these was the unglossed root ᴱ√TARA⁽¹⁾ in the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s with derivatives like ᴱQ. tara- “cross, go athwart, cross rivers” and ᴱQ. tarwe “cross, crucifix” (QL/89). In QL Tolkien gave a Gnomish form tor, but the Gnomish Lexicon itself had derived forms like G. taru “cross; crossing”, G. trantha- “to cross” and G. trath “passage, ford” (GL69, 71). The forms G. adr(a)/ᴱQ. arta “lying athwart; situated on far side” are clearly related (GL/17).

There was another unglossed root in the the Qenya Lexicon: {ᴱ√SAŘA >>} ᴱ√SARA with derivatives like ᴱQ. sara- “saw”, ᴱQ. sarat “plank”, and ᴱQ. sarno “table” (QL/82). Gnomish forms G. sard “table” vs. G. thar- “saw (up)” may represent a blending with another root *ᴱ√ÞARA (GL/67, 71). However, Tolkien compared G. sard to G. thrad [< *s(a)rat-?] (GL/67), whereas G. thrad “a board, shelf” was deleted from underneath G. thar- (GL/71). Perhaps this means there was a conceptual shift of {ᴱ√SARA >>} *ᴱ√ÞARA, though G. thrad “plank, board, shelf” was retained undeleted elsewhere in the document (GL/73).

As a later entry to the The Etymologies of the 1930s, Tolkien gave the root ᴹ√THAR “across, beyond” serving as the basis for the names N. Thar-gelion (“Land beyond Gelion”) and N. Thar-bad with an unclear gloss, probably “Crossway” (Ety/THAR). The root √ÞAR appeared in a list of Sindarin words associated with Definitive Linguistic Notes (DLN) from 1959, where it served as the basis for words like S. athrad “crossing” and prefix S. athra- in words like S. athrabeth “conversation (interchange of words)” (PE17/14); in this note Tolkien specified that the root √ÞAR was not found in Quenya, but the root does appear to be an element in later Quenya words like the 1968 word Q. Mondósar “Oxford” (DTS/70).

Note that the root √THAR appeared a few times in Tolkien’s later writings with a different meaning: ᴹ√THAR “stand” in the Quenya Verbal System of the 1940s (PE22/126) and √THAR² “vigour” (another Sindarin-only root) in an explanation of the name S. Thranduil in a list of roots from 1959 (D59: PE17/187).

Neo-Eldarin: For purposes of Neo-Eldarin, I would assume “across” is the main meaning of this root. However, I would ignore Tolkien’s 1959 statement that the root was not found in Quenya in order to salvage early words from *ᴱ√ÞARA, with the verbal sense “saw” = “(cut) across” and from this sense deriving words like “plank” and “table”.

THAW “cruel; stink”

Tolkien conceived of a number of roots for the names of Sauron, both Q. Sauron itself as well as S. Thû and S. Gorthaur, and the roots were sometimes related and sometimes not, but often had to do with stench or other disgusting things. In The Etymologies of the 1930s Tolkien gave the unglossed root ᴹ√THUS derivatives like ᴹQ. saura “foul, evil-smelling, putrid”, N. thaw “corrupt, rotten”, and N. thost “smell”, also serving as the basis for both ᴹQ. Sauron and N. Thû (Ety/THUS; EtyAC/THUS).

In Definitive Linguistic Notes (DLN) from 1959 the root √THUS reappeared with the gloss “evil mist, fog, darkness”, still the basis for S. Thû as well as S. Gorthaur “Mist of Fear”, but in this note Q. Sauron was based on √SAW “disgusting, foul, vile” (PE17/183); Tolkien then rejected this derivation of Sauron, saying instead it came from √THAW “cruel”, as did Gorthaur (PE17/184).

The root √SAWA also appeared in the first page of DLN with the gloss “bad, unhealthy, ill, wretched”, but that page was rejected (PE17/172). √SAW appeared again in notes from March of 1967, but there {√SAW >>} √ÞAW “stink”, again as the basis for Q. Sauron, and it apparently had an even earlier form √ÞOWO that was the basis for S. Thû (PE17/68). The primitive form ✶thowō was also mentioned in earlier notes as the basis for S. Thû on a page accompanying Notes on Galdriel’s Song (NGS) written between the 1st and 2nd edition of The Lord of the Rings (PE17/99).

Probably the best known of the etymologies for the name of Sauron appeared in a draft letter to Mr. Rang from August of 1967, where Tolkien gave √THAW > ✶θaurā “detestable” (Let/380), which is essentially the etymology Christopher Tolkien gave in The Silmarillion appendix, where both Q. Sauron and S. Gorthaur were connected to Sindarin element S. thaur “abominable, horrible” (SA/thaur).

To summarize, the main conceptuals shifts seem to be:

  • 1930s ᴹ√THUS “*smell, stench” > both ᴹQ. Sauron and N. Thû.
  • 1959 √THUS “evil mist, fog, darkness” > S. Thû/S. Gorthaur “Mist of Fear” but √SAW “disgusting, foul, vile” > Q. Sauron.
  • 1959 [revised] √THAW “cruel” > both Q. Sauron and S. Gorthaur.
  • March 1967 {√SAW >>} √ÞAW “stink” > Q. Sauron but more ancient √ÞOWO (same meaning) > S. Thû.
  • August 1967 √THAW > ✶θaurā “detestable” > Q. Sauron.

The last of these is the best match for the base forms used by Christopher Tolkien in the published version of The Silmarillion, though the exact source of Christopher’s etymology remains unpublished.

Neo-Eldarin: The result of all this vacillation is a confusing muddle that makes it hard to know which roots to use in Neo-Eldarin. For √THAW I would stick with the sense “cruel” but I would assume some blending with √SAW “disgusting, foul, vile” to preserve words from this root. I would assume √THUS has a sense similar to that of The Etymologies (“*smell”) with more neutral meanings in Sindarin, but only unpleasant meanings in Quenya due to the influence of √SAW. Retaining √THAW “cruel”, √SAW “foul” and √THUS “smell” would let us keep most of the interesting derivatives of these roots.

ᴹ√THEL(ES) “sister”

Tolkien gave this root in The Etymologies of the 1930s as ᴹ√THEL and extended form ᴹ√THELES with the gloss “sister” and derivatives like ᴹQ. seler and N. thêl of the same meaning, both derived from the extended root as made clear by the plural Noldorin thelei < ON. thelehi (Ety/THEL). In notes from the late 1960s, Tolkien gave Q. nésa and S. nethel as the words for “sister”, both from the root √NETH. Nevertheless, I think it is worth retaining ᴹ√THEL(ES) to represent more abstract notions of “sisterhood” for the purposes of Neo-Eldarin, for “metaphorical” sisters as opposed to Q. nésa/S. nethel for sisters by blood.

THER “sew”

The root √THER or √SER “saw” appears in a discussion of the name Q. Vairë “Weaver” probably from the late 1950s, with Tolkien preferring √THER because it could be a variant of √TER “pierce” (PE17/33). That section of the discussion was rejected (PE17/34), but given Tolkien’s later use of †Þerindë > Q. Serindë “Broideress” or “Needlewoman” as a sobriquet for Fëanor’s mother Q. Míriel (MR/185; PM/333), it seems √THER “sew” survived. This root could be a later iteration of ᴱ√SERE “twine, tie, bind” from Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s with derivatives like ᴱQ. serma “string, cord” and ᴱQ. serta- “tie” (QL/83); its Gnomish derivatives in the contemporaneous Gnomish Lexicon such as G. ther- “tie” and G. theres “ribbon” make it clear the actual early root was *ᴱ√ÞERE (GL/72).

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