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Select Elvish Words 4.33: Hand

4.33 Hand

Q. camba n. “(cupped) hand, hollow of the hand”
A word for “hand” in notes on Eldarin Hands, Fingers and Numerals from the late 1960s, based on the root √KAB “hold, contain, retain” (VT47/7-8). Tolkien said that it “referred to the whole hand, but as flexed, with fingers more or less closed, cupped, in the attitude of receiving or holding”, so it thus referred more specifically to a “cupped hand”. In drafts of these notes Tolkien gave it the glosses “closed or hollowed hand (facing up) for receiving or offering” or simply “hollow of the hand” (VT47/20 note #16). In these drafts he also considered changing the form of the root to √KAM, but that seems to have been a transient idea; see the entry on that root for discussion.

Conceptual Development: In The Etymologies of the 1930s, Tolkien instead had ᴹQ. kambe {“closed hand” >>} “hollow (of hand)” with final -e instead of -a, although with the same root ᴹ√KAB “hollow” (Ety/KAB; EtyAC/KAB). In notes from 1968, Tolkien had Q. kambeya “his hand” (VT49/17), indicate final e was still a possibility in his later writings. For purposes of Neo-Quenya, I’d stick the better documented camba with the sense “(cupped) hand, hollow of the hand”.

Q. n. “hand”
The most common Quenya word for “hand”, which Tolkien usually derived from a root √MAH or √MAƷ “hand; handle, wield”. The weak consonant h or ʒ in the root was lost very early, so that primitive ✶ was one of a rare set of ancient monosyllabic nouns ending in a vowel. Tolkien said that of the various hand words, was “the oldest (probably) and the one that retained a general and unspecialized sense — referring to the entire hand (including wrist) in any attitude or function” (VT47/6).

As a part of the body, “hand” was usually referred to in the singular () or dual (mát). This was true when referring to the hands of groups of people as well. For example, to say that “the Elves raised their hands”, you would say either i Eldar ortaner mánta (singular, one hand each) or i Eldar ortaner mántat (dual, both hands each), with the possessive suffix -nta “their”.

The plural form már “hands” (or archaic †mai) was almost never used, in part because it conflicted with Q. már “dwelling”. The singular form was also used in general statements and proverbs: “hand is cleverer than foot” má anfinya epe tál (ná). A collection of otherwise unrelated hands would likely use the partitive-plural form: máli “some hands”, which in this case could also serve as the general plural (VT47/12 Note 2). See the discussions on PE17/161 and VT47/6 for more information.

This word is also unusual in that it retains its long vowel before consonant clusters in inflected forms such as mánta “their hand” (PE17/161) or márya “his/her hand” (PE17/69). As Tolkien described it:

is usually shortened to la before 2 consonants, according to the usual Q. procedure, but the long vowel can be retained, especially for additional emphasis, as in other cases where pronominal affixes follow a long vowel, as in márya “his hand” (PE22/160).

Conceptual Development: This word dates all the way back to ᴱQ. “hand” from Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s, derived from the early root ᴱ√MAHA “grasp” (QL/57). ᴹQ. “hand” also appeared in The Etymologies of the 1930s under the root ᴹ√MAƷ “hand” (Ety/MAƷ). Tolkien mentioned this word with great frequency, usually derived from √MAH or √MAƷ (as noted above) though he sometimes considered deriving it from √MAG instead.

Q. nonda n. “hand especially in (?clutching)”
A word for “hand especially in (?clutching)” appearing only in draft notes on Eldarin Hands, Fingers and Numerals from the late 1960s derived from primitive ✶dond(a) with assimilation of the initial d to the later nasal n (VT47/23 note #25). A more usual word for “closed or grasping hand” is Q. quár(ë).
Q. quár(ë) n. “fist, closed hand”
The Quenya word for a “fist” or a “closed hand”. In 1968 notes on Eldarin Hands, Fingers and Numerals Tolkien specified that “its chief use was in reference to the tightly closed hand as in using an implement or a craft-tool rather than to the ‘fist’ as used in punching” (VT47/8). Tolkien represented this word as both quáre (PE17/42) and quár (VT47/8). Based on its Sindarin and Telerin cognates S. paur and T. pár, the vowel was long in the primitive ancestor of the word, which Tolkien represented as either ✶kwārē or ✶kwāră (PE17/42; VT47/8).

Conceptual Development: In The Etymologies of the 1930s Tolkien gave both ᴹQ. qár “hand” and ᴹQ. qáre “fist” in two different entries for the root ᴹ√KWAR, neither of which was deleted (Ety/KWAR). The form ᴹQ. qár had a plural form qari, indicating a primitive stem form *kwăr- with short ă where the long vowel was based on the ancient subjective form kwār, analogous to ᴹQ. nér (ner-) “man” and other similar words.

Neo-Quenya: For purposes of Neo-Quenya, I would assume quár < ✶kwār(ă) is the normal form of this word, with quáre an occasional variant perhaps extrapolated from plural quári. Since we don’t know the Quenya word for a “fist for punching”, I would assume quár can be used for a closed hand in general, either grasping a tool or empty, although the closed empty fist was not its only (or even its primary) use.

S. cam n. “(cupped) hand, holding hand; handful”
A common Sindarin word for “hand”, most notably an element in the names Camlost “Empty-handed” and Erchamion “One-handed”. In drafts of Tolkien’s 1968 notes on Eldarin Hands, Fingers and Numerals, he glossed this word as “handful, holding hand” (VT47/22 note #19). In the final version of these notes, Tolkien said that its Quenya equivalent camba “referred to the whole hand, but as flexed, with fingers more or less closed, cupped, in the attitude of receiving or holding” (VT47/7), and in the Silmarillion Appendix Christopher Tolkien indicated the same was true of the Sindarin word (SA/cam).

However, based on the 1950s phrase sí il chem en i Naugrim en ir Ellath thor den ammen “*now all (?hands) of the Dwarves and Elves will be (?against) to us” (VT50/5), I think the Sindarin word is more general in meaning, able to refer to a hand in any context, but most specifically an open hand or one holding an object loosely, as opposed to paur for a tightly closed hand. Based on the gloss “handful”, it seems it could also be used as a unit of measure for the contents of a hand (potential or actual): cam miriain “a hand[ful] of coins”.

Conceptual Development: A possible precursor to this word was G. gob “hollow of hand” from the Gnomish Lexicon of the 1910s based on the early root ᴱ√kop- “keep, guard” (GL/40; QL/47). In The Etymologies of the 1930s the word was N. cam “hand” derived from the root ᴹ√KAB “hollow” (Ety/KAB), a form Tolkien retained thereafter. In later notes he usually derived this word from √KAB (VT47/7, 20), though in one place he considered deriving it from √KAM instead (VT47/20); this root change seems to have been a transient idea.

S. dond n. “fist”
A word for “fist” appearing as dond or donn only in draft notes on Eldarin Hands, Fingers and Numerals from the late 1960s derived from primitive ✶dond(a) (VT47/23 note #25). A more usual word for “fist” is S. paur.
S. mâb n. “hand, ⚠️[N.] grasp”
The typical Sindarin word for “hand” (VT47/7, 20), usable in almost any context. It is most notable as an element in the name Mablung “Heavy Hand” (VT47/8). See below for a discussion of its etymology.

Conceptual Development: This word dates all the way back to the Gnomish Lexicon of the 1910s, where G. mab “hand” appeared as a derivative of the early root ᴱ√MAPA “seize” (GL/55). Tolkien then revised the gloss to “hands”, saying instead it was an irregular dual of G. “hand”. The word reverted to singular ᴱN. mab “hand” in Early Noldorin Word-lists of the 1920s (PE13/149). These early versions of the word were already an element of Mablung “Heavy Hand(ed)” (LT2/38; LB/311), but also of Ermabwed “One-handed” (LT2/34; LB/119).

In the 1930s it seems Tolkien decided Ilk. mâb “hand” was primarily an Ilkorin word, and the usual word for “hand” in Noldorin was N. cam. Compare Ilkorin Ermabuin “One-handed” and Mablosgen “Empty-handed” with Noldorin Erchamion and Camlost of the same meaning. In The Etymologies of the 1930s, Tolkien had N. mab “grasp” under the root ᴹ√MAPA “seize”, but the version of the entry with that word was overwritten (EtyAC/MAP). In this period, Mablung may also have been an Ilkorin name. After Tolkien abandoned Ilkorin in the 1950s, he kept S. Erchamion and Camlost based on cam, but also kept Mablung “Heavy Hand” which must have become Sindarin.

In his later writings Tolkien again revisited the etymology of S. mâb “hand”. In a note from Jan-Feb 1968, he wrote:

It [Q. = “hand”] did not survive in Telerin and Sindarin as an independent word, but was replaced by the similar-sounding but unconnected C.E. makwā, Q. maqua, T. mapa, S. mab, of uncertain origin, but probably originally an adjectival formation from MAK “strike” … (VT47/19).

This sentence was struck through, however. In drafts of notes on Elvish Hands, Fingers and Numerals written in or after 1968, Tolkien again derived mâb from √MAP (VT47/20 note #13), but in the final version of these notes he made the remarkable decision to discard this root despite it being a stable part of Elvish for nearly 50 years, declaring it was used only in Telerin and not Quenya or Sindarin (VT47/7). He coined a new etymology for S. mâb “hand” based on ✶makwā “handful” = ✶ + ✶kwā (VT47/6-7), a variation on the above etymology from √MAK.

Neo-Sindarin: For purposes of Neo-Sindarin, I prefer to ignore Tolkien’s 1968 removal of √MAP “seize”, and so would continue to derive S. mâb “hand” from that root. However, its ancient meaning may have been “*grasp”, and its eventual use as “hand” might have been influenced by ancient ✶makwā “handful”.

S. †maw n. “(cupped) hand, holding hand; handful”
The Sindarin equivalent of Q. , likewise derived from the root √MAH or √MAƷ “hand; handle, wield” (PE17/162; VT47/6). However, in Sindarin this word was archaic, used only in poetry, having been replaced in ordinary speech by other words like S. mâb and (less often) cam. Other remnants of this word can be seen in compounds like molif “wrist, (orig.) hand link” and directional words like forvo and harvo for left and right hand side.

Conceptual Development: In the Gnomish Lexicon of the 1910s, G. from the early root ᴱ√MAHA was the normal word for “hand”, replacing mab “hand” (< ᴱ√MAHA) which in this document Tolkien decided was instead an irregular dual form of (GL/55). It had also had an irregular plural mabin based on this dual, replacing an older plural †maith. In the Gnomish Grammar, its archaic form was †, with the usual Gnomish sound change of ā to ō (GG/14), as opposed to later Sindarin/Noldorin ā to au, spelt –aw when final. Tolkien seems to have abandoned as a non-archaic word for “hand” early on, preferring ᴱN. mab “hand” by the 1920s and introducing N. cam “hand” in the 1930s.

S. paur n. “fist, closed hand”
The Sindarin word for a “fist” or a “closed hand” (PE17/42; PM/179), derived from either ✶kwārē or ✶kwāră (PE17/42; VT47/8) with the usual sound changes of ancient kw to p and ā to au. The word paur is most notable as the element -bor in the name Celebrimbor “Silver-fist”, with the usual soft-mutation of p to b and the change of au to o in polysyllables. In 1968 notes on Eldarin Hands, Fingers and Numerals Tolkien specified that “its chief use was in reference to the tightly closed hand as in using an implement or a craft-tool rather than to the ‘fist’ as used in punching” (VT47/8). For a “punching fist” the word [N.] drambor is more likely to be used.

Conceptual Development: N. paur “fist” first appeared in The Etymologies of the 1930s under the root ᴹ√KWAR, neither of which was deleted (Ety/KWAR). In the first version of this root, the form was N. par “hand” (EtyAC/KWAR).

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