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Select Elvish Words 4.75: Death (Quenya)

4.75 to Die; Dead; Death

Q. fir- v. “to die, fade, †expire, breathe forth”
A verb for “to die”, originally meaning “breathe forth, expire” (MR/250). Tolkien also translated it as “die, fade” in notes for the Markirya poem of the 1960s (MC/223). The use of this verb for death was connected to the passing of Míriel and was thus used only for a natural or peaceful death (MR/250); for discussion see the noun form fírië “death”. More unpleasant forms of death would instead use the verb Q. qual-. Based on the glosses from the Markirya poem, it seems this verb may also be applied metaphorically to non-living things that “fade (away)”, as in its more elaborate form fifíru- “to slowly fade away” (MC/222-223).
Q. fírië n. “death (of Men), *natural death”
A noun for a natural or peaceful death. This word originated with the death of Míriel, the first wife of Finwë, who choose to pass away after the difficult birth of their son Fëanor. As Tolkien described it:

For before the passing of Míriel the Eldar of Valinor had no word for “dying” in this manner, though they had words for being destroyed (in body) or being slain. But fírë meant to “expire”, as of one sighing or releasing a deep breath; and at the passing of Míriel she had sighed a great sigh, and then lay still; and those who stood by said fírië “she hath breathed forth”. This word the Eldar afterwards used of the death of Men (MR/250).

As such, this word was based on the verb fir-, originally meaning “breath forth”, but later also being used mainly in the sense of “to die (a nature death)”. Tolkien also used fírië as a noun for “death” in early versions of his Aia María prayer from the 1950s (VT43/34).

Conceptual Development: In the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s Tolkien had ᴱQ. “last hour, death” based on the early root ᴱ√ǶEHE “breath; die, expire”, thus expressing a similar connection between the final breath and death (QL/41). In the contemporaneous Poetic and Mythological Words of Eldarissa, the word was in fact glossed “act of death, last breath” (PME/41). In The Etymologies of the 1930s Tolkien had ᴹQ. faire “natural death (as act)” also based on the root ᴹ√PHIR (Ety/PHIR).

Neo-Quenya: For purposes of Neo-Quenya, I’d stick with fírie for “(natural) death”, since in Tolkien’s later writing Q. fairë was used for a disembodied spirit. I would use fírie only for a peaceful death. For death by accident, murder or disease I’d use [ᴹQ.] qualme “death agony”.

Q. fírima adj. “mortal, *(lit.) able to die”
A word for “mortal” appearing in the Quendi and Eldar essay from 1959-60, literally meaning “one apt to die” and based on the root √PHIRI “exhale, expire, breathe out” (WJ/387). It is likely based on the verb fir- “to die”. Like English, it can be used as a both an adjective and a noun. It was used as a noun in the Quendi and Eldar essay: Fírimar “Mortals”. In The Etymologies of the 1930s, ᴹQ. fírima “mortal” was simply an adjective derived from the root ᴹ√PHIR (Ety/PHIR).
ᴹQ. fírimáre n. “mortality, the state of being mortal”
A word in the Quenya Verbal System (QVS) of 1948 glossed “mortality, the state of being mortal” (PE22/124), a noun form of fírima “mortal”.
ᴹQ. firin adj. “dead (by natural cause)”
An adjective in The Etymologies of the 1930s glossed “dead (by natural cause)” derived from the root ᴹ√PHIR (Ety/PHIR).
ᴹQ. nuru [ñ] n. “death [abstract]”
A word for “death” in The Etymologies of the 1930s under the root ᴹ√ÑGUR, where Tolkien said its personification was Mandos (Ety/ÑGUR). Tolkien also use this word as “death” in the phrase ᴹQ. núruhuine méne lumna “death-shadow on-us is-heavy” (LR/47, 56; SD/310).

Conceptual Development: A possible precursor to this word is ᴱQ. urdu “death” from the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s under the early root ᴱ√GWṚÐṚ “die” (QL/104), given as a cognate to G. gurthu in the contemporaneous Gnomish Lexicon (GL/43). A variant of this form seems to have been briefly restored in Quenya prayers from the 1950s as incomplete urtulm…, probably Q. urtu with a possessive suffix, but this was quickly replaced by Q. fírië “death” (VT43/27, 34).

Neo-Quenya: For purposes of Neo-Quenya, I would use the word nuru for death as an abstract force or concept (Death), as opposed to the death of individuals which would be fírie (if natural or peaceful) or [ᴹQ.] qualme (if undesired or painful).

Q. qual- v. “to die”
A verb for “to die” in Late Notes on Verb Structure (LVS) from 1969 (PE22/152), clearly based on the root √KWAL having to do with pain and death (PE18/91, 103; Ety/KWAL). As such, I would use this verb for undesirable or painful death, as opposed to fir- “to die (a natural or peaceful death)”.

Conceptual Development: ᴱQ. qal- meant “die” in Early Qenya Word-lists of the 1920s (PE16/134), and the root √KWAL had a long history of connection to death and pain in Tolkien’s writings.

ᴹQ. qalin adj. “dead, ⚠️[ᴱQ.] dying”
An adjective for “dead” in The Etymologies of the 1930s under the root ᴹ√KWAL “die (in pain)” (Ety/KWAL).

Conceptual Development: The adjective ᴱQ. qalin meant “dead” all the way back in the Qenya Lexicon and Poetic and Mythological Words of Eldarissa of the 1910s where it was derived from the early root ᴱ√QALA “die” (QL/76; PME/76). In the Qenya Lexicon it had an archaic variant ᴱQ. †qalna (QL/76). In Early Qenya Word-lists of the 1920s, qalin appeared in the stative construction qalinya {“is dead” >>} “is dying” (PE16/140).

ᴹQ. qalme n. “(process of) death, (death) agony”
A noun in The Etymologies of the 1930s glossed “agony, death” derived from the root ᴹ√KWAL “die (in pain)” (Ety/KWAL). In the contemporaneous version of Tengwesta Qenderinwa (TQ1) it was glossed “process of death, death agony” (PE18/58).

Conceptual Development: In the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s it was ᴱQ. {qalma >>} qalmë “death” with archaic variant †qalume, both under the early root ᴱ√QALA “die” (QL/76). In the contemporaneous Poetic and Mythological Words of Eldarissa it was simply qalme “death” (PME/76), but in Early Qenya Word-lists of the 1920s it was glossed “agony” (PE16/144).

Neo-Quenya: For purposes of Neo-Quenya, I would use this word primarily for “death”, but only for painful or unwanted death as opposed to natural or peaceful death, which is fírië (MR/250). The word qualme is most specifically applied to the (painful) process of death, and by extrapolation to pain so great that one feels as if they are dying: nán qualmesse “I am in death agony (actual or figurative)”.

ᴱQ. qalmea adj. “deathly, *deadly”
A set of related adjectives in the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s: ᴱQ. qalma “deadly”, qalmea “deathly” and (archaic) †qalūmea equivalent to qalma, all based on ᴱQ. qalme or †qalume “death” (QL/76).

Neo-Quenya: Since [ᴹQ.] qualme “death” continued to appear in Tolkien’s later writings (Ety/KWAL), I’d adapt these adjectives as ᴺQ. qualmëa “deadly, deathly”, applied mainly to things apt to cause death.

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