Episode 6 Extras: Etymologies

As promised in episode six, here is the (mostly quenya) etymologies of the various terms used in the episode. I will provide a link, where possible, to Eldamo, the best resource for deconstructing elven vocabulary and my primary tool in this guide. I will attempt to be consistent in my notes, giving the roots and derivations but i may wander a bit. Caveat Emptor.

A note about diacritics:

Tolkien used a number of different diacritics over his vowels. I will highlight the two he uses specifically in Quenya.

  • ó – called various the acute or circumflex, this denotes that the vowel should be lengthened.
  • ö – i refered to this as an umlaut in the episode but its proper name is diaeresis, and tolkien uses it to remind the reader that this vowel should be pronounced and not skipped over or elided.


Quenya, noun. pl. fëar

Glossed as "(indwelling or incarnate) spirit, soul", as opposed to a soul or spirit whose natural state is not in union with a hröa, such as ëala (being, spirit) or maiya (angelic spirit).

The primitive elvish root from which the root is derived, √PHAY originally had the meaning "radiate, send out rays of light" and only later was changed to “spirit”. The Eldamo page on the root has a nice writeup about the change, and makes the interesting point about how the derivitives of the root, including fëa, all originally had this first meaning, but were changed to the new one, tho retained some sense of "radiance" thereafter.


Quenya, noun. pl. hröar

Unlike fëa, which really only ever had a single version, hröa, which translates roughly to "body" specifically the flesh and physical form, went through a number of different evolutions. The first form of this word was hrón, based on the primitive elvish root √SRON. In the course of the writing of Laws and Customs of the Eldar (specifically between manuscripts A and B) this was changed into hrondo, which shared the same root. By the time he was done with manuscript B however, Tolkien once again changed his mind, and this time somewhat more substantially. Hrondo was to become hröa, and now the root from which the word was derived changed as well, into √SRA(W) meaning "body, flesh", where √SRON had meant the somewhat more general "flesh, substance, matter". Despite the shift in meaning, notes indicate that in all cases √SRA(W) replaces √SRON. Additionally unlike fëa, hröa has an intermediate derivation in primitive elvish: srawā meaning "body". (the rules by which the sound shifts change srawā into hröa is not, at the moment, relevant)

As to its meaning, in the Athrabeth Tolkien described hröa as being "roughly but not exactly equivalent to ‘body’". The vocabulary notes at the end of Morgoth’s Ring take pains to emphasize it is the body of "an incarnate being". How exactly it is not equivalent to a body, but is specific to an incarnate being is something thats not elaborated on in any of these texts.


Quenya, collective name.

Glossed consistently in Morgoth’s Ring and Vinyar Tengwar 39 as "Incarnate(s)" or "Incarnate Beings", it refers specifically to the children of Eru for whom the union of a body and soul (hröa and fëa) was their natural, unmarred state of being. It is derived from the primitive elvish mi-srawanwe, meaning literally "put into flesh".

Mi- means "in" and through a sound transformation hröa becomes -rroa- but the last part of the word is "obscure" according to eldamo.


Quenya, noun.

Literally translated meaning "the One" but used to mean "God", this word is derived from the primitive elvish root √ER meaning "one, single, alone". There’s something fairly poignant and illuminating about this choice of etymology Tolkien made, as the english word is of obscure origin.


Quenya, Name.

A name for god translated as "Father of All" or "All-Father" (hey Tolkien, your nodic fanboy is showing). It is a compound of the quenya words ilúve "all" and atar "father".


Quenya, noun. pl. ainur

This word has one of the more interesting etymologies we’ve got here. The word means "holy one, spirit" and specifically refers to the order of beings who helped Eru with the creation of the world. The word appears to be derived from the primitive elvish root √AYA(N) meaning “blessed; treat with awe/reverence”, HOWEVER in War of the Jewels we are also told it is derived from an entirely different language called Valarin, the language of the Valar, specifically from their word ayanūz, of which it is a cognate. The root √AYA(N) may or may not have been influenced or derived from this valarin word.


Quenya, noun. pl. maiar

Glossed variously as "anglic spirits" or "spirit", this word has two possible roots, √MAG “good (physically); to thrive, be in a good state” and √MAY “excellent, admirable, beautiful; make [art]; suitable, useful, proper, serviceable; right”.


Quenya, noun. pl. ëalar

Composed of the elements ëa- "to be, exist" and the active participle suffix -ila, in a footnote on a late revision of the Quenta Silmarillion, Tolkien defined ëala as "’spirit’ (not incarnate, which was fëa… ëala ‘being’." (MR165)


Quenya, noun.

We didn’t actually mention this one in the episode, but we made reference to it. Fana glosses to “raiment, veil; (bright) shape or figure; bodily form of an angelic spirit”. We get this word primarily from a document called "Word, Phrases and Passages", written on and off between 1955 and 1960 and published in Parma Eldalamberon 17 in 2007. It was composed in responses to fan demands for clarifications about the names, words and other linguistic details, but in classic Tolkien fashion he never was satisfied with it and it never actually got published.

The word itself is derived from the primitive elvish root √PHAN meaning “cover, screen, veil; white, (light white) shape; shape, vision” and its use in this sense apparently was owed to the faint radience the valar’s physical forms had.