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Select Elvish Words 4.34-4.342: Finger, Thumb (Quenya)

4.34 Finger

Q. leper n. “finger”
The Quenya word for “finger” appearing in various notes on Eldarin Hands, Fingers and Numerals from 1968, derived from the root √LEP “pick up” (VT47/10; VT48/5).

Conceptual Development: The Quenya “finger” words went through quite a few conceptual changes, but they were always based on the root √LEP. The earliest of these was ᴱQ. let (lept-) “finger” in the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s under the early root ᴱ√LEPE with plural form lepsi (QL/53). In Qenya word lists of the 1920s, however, this became ᴱQ. lepta “finger”, still with the plural lepsi (PE15/72; PE16/137).

The form was ᴹQ. let (leps-) in the Declension of Nouns of the early 1930s (PE21/19, 26), expanded to ᴹQ. lepse “finger” in The Etymologies written around 1937, based on the root ᴹ√LEPET of the same meaning (Ety/LEPET). This form demonstrated the 1930s sound change whereby pt became ps (PE19/44 note #44). Tolkien revised this sound change so that the result remained pt (PE19/44), and in 1940s drafts to The Lord of the Rings Tolkien used the word ᴹQ. rakkalepta “*claw-fingered” in Treebeard’s description of orcs (SD/68), though in the published version this word only appeared in English.

In the Outline of Phonology from the 1950s (OP1) Tolkien considered restoring the sound change pt > ps (PE19/84 note #75), and Q. lepsë appeared in notes from the late 1950s or early 60s on the tree name S. lebethron, so named because “its leaves (like chestnut) [were] shaped like a fingered hand” (PE17/89). However, he again abandoned this, clarifying that the actual result of [pt] was a spirantal [ɸt] (spelled pt to represent the bilabial pronunciation), and that in Tarquesta pronunciation the [ɸ] vocalized to [u̯] so that ✶lepta > leꝑta > Q. leu̯ta “finger” (PE19/84). Q. lepta appeared in several words in the 1960s: Q. leptafinya “clever-fingered” (PE17/17) and Q. Tyelpelepta “*silver-fingered” (VT47/27).

In drafts of the 1968 notes on Eldarin Hands, Fingers and Numerals, lepta reappeared as an independent word, but with the gloss “thumb” (VT47/27). In the final versions of these notes, however, Tolkien used leper for “finger”, as noted above.

Neo-Quenya: For purposes of Neo-Quenya, I would use leper for “finger”, but would retain lepta as an adjective meaning “fingered”, especially in compounds like [ᴹQ.] raccalepta “claw-fingered”.

Q. lepecan (lepecant-) n. “fourth finger”
A name for the fourth finger in notes on Eldarin Hands, Fingers and Numerals from 1968, a combination of ✶lepe “finger” and a reduced form of Q. canta “four” (VT47/10). Rough drafts of these notes had lepekan(t) or Q. cantil with the initial element meaning “four” and the final element Q. til “tip” (VT47/27 note #25). Later version of these notes also had lepekan, along with a more obscurely formed Q. lepente (VT48/5), whose second element is likely related to Q. net(ë) “one more [beyond the middle]” (VT47/15), as suggested by Patrick Wynne (VT48/14-15 note #5).

Neo-Quenya: For purposes of Neo-Quenya, I’d use lepecan (lepecant-) for “fourth finger” as the best established of all the various forms, with Q. lepente as a more obscure variant.

Q. lependë n. “middle finger”
In rought drafts of notes on Eldarin Hands, Fingers and Numerals from 1968, Tolkien coined various words for “middle finger” using initial element √ENED “middle”: Q. enestil, enelde or enelde, the first of these in combination with Q. til “tip” with the usual sound change of d+t > t+t > st (VT47/26). But Tolkien soon revised the form to lepende, a combination of ✶lepe “finger” and Q. endë “middle” (VT47/27).

The word lepende “middle finger” reappeared in the polished version of these notes, along with a variant lepenel (VT47/10). Tolkien said this variant was an older word interpreted as “finger number-three”, but was originally based on Q. enel “in the middle, between” (VT47/11), with d/l variation in the primitive root √ENED (VT47/29 note #43). In yet another version of these notes, lepenel was the only word for “middle finger” (VT48/5).

Neo-Quenya: For purposes of Neo-Quenya, I’d use lependë as the usual word for “middle finger”, with †lepenel as an archaic variant.

Q. lepetas (lepetass-) n. “index finger”
A word for the “index finger” in notes on Eldarin Hands, Fingers and Numerals from 1968, a combination of ✶lepe “finger” and √TAS “point” (VT47/10-11; VT48/5). The short form Q. tassa (perhaps originally “pointer”?) was also used for the “index finger” (VT48/5).

Conceptual Development: In drafts of these notes, the word first appeared as Q. tastil where the second element was Q. -til “point” (VT47/26), but this was soon revised to leptas (VT47/27).

Q. lepincë (lepinci-) n. “little finger”
A word for the “little finger” in notes on Eldarin Hands, Fingers and Numerals from 1968, a combination of ✶lepe “finger” and the diminutive suffix ✶-inki, appearing first as lepinka and later as lepinke (VT47/10-11; VT48/5). The short form Q. {nitye >>} níke was also used for the “little finger” (VT48/5, 15).

Conceptual Development: In drafts of these notes, the word first appeared as Q. nihtil, a combination of √NIK “small” and Q. -til “point” (VT47/26).

Q. tolyo n. “sticker-up”
A nursery name for the middle finger glossed “sticker-up” in notes on Eldarin Hands, Fingers and Numerals from 1968 as an elaboration of the root √TOL “stick up” (VT47/10). The word also appeared as tolyo this document’s drafts (VT47/26-28), but in a slightly later version it was tollo (VT48/6).

4.342 Thumb

Q. nápo n. “thumb, (lit.) picker”
A word for “thumb” in notes on Eldarin Hands, Fingers and Numerals from 1968 (VT47/10; VT48/5). In rough drafts of these notes it was glossed “picker” as a derivative of √NAP “pick up” (VT47/29). Its (fossilized?) dual form nápat was used to refer to the “thumb and index [finger] as a pair” (VT48/5). Presumably the ordinary dual for a pair of thumbs was *nápot or *nápu (I personally prefer *nápu as a bit more distinctive).

Conceptual Development: In rough drafts of these notes, Tolkien explored several alternate words for “thumb”: Q. tolle, Q. toltil, {(tal)tolle >>} (lep)tolle and tolpe (< *tol-lepe), all based on the root √TOL “stick up” (VT47/26-28). In the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s it was ᴱQ. tyúte “thumb” from the early root ᴱ√TYU whose derivatives had to do with “thick” things (QL/50).

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