Bebother

Our Mr. Baggins, dignified even in his indignance, uses one of the most magnificent words of the book right up front in Chapter 1.

  • 01.059 Confusticate and bebother these dwarves!’

“Bother” we all understand as “annoy” in our present use of English.  It also has an obscure meaning.

To bewilder with noise; to confuse, muddle; to put into a fluster or flutter.

The dwarves have definitely annoyed Bilbo, in exactly this obscure specific way, with which I am certain Tolkien was familiar.  To this word he has added be-.  “May the dwarves become bothered.  May bothering surround them.”  “Bebother” as a verb has no entry in the OED, but the adjective “bebothered” is attested there for the mid-1800s.  Tolkien invented this word – back-forming it from “bebothered” – deducing a word that must have existed but for which no evidence is found.  Creative deduction like this of what are often called “asterisk words” is the chief tool of the philologist

As a Chapter 1 word, “bebother” goes far to setting tone and illustrating some of Bilbo’s character.  I imagine him stamping his hairy foot, eyes squinted and head shaking.  At about four feet tall and moving toward being “on his dignity”, he seems to be in a dudgeon which cannot really be … high.  I am listing “bebother” as a funny word both for the image and for sound of it, a little startle of humour when we  hear something as unexpected as Wednesday afternoon parties.

“bother, v.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 7 May 2015.

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