A Few Special Words

We tagged a few other categories of words as we went along.  Remembering that while the Concordance has all 1534 uncommon words entered, I have only had chance to thoroughly examine and make special notes on the 300 which were the most interesting to me and seemed the most likely to be “archaic” or a “gem” or to fit the other ideas I was curious about.  In fact, if you search on the tag “brief”, you will find those words for which I only made a plain concordance entry.

Meanwhile, those special other tags.  There are not many of them, so I concatenated them all onto one graphic for us:

Special Words

The few blue words are tagged “British” – from Scottish, Irish, and Cumbrian.  The green graph shows us the words from outside the most frequent hundred thousand words in the Project Gutenberg corpus, tagged 100K.   I also had a few thoroughly subjective tags.  The red graph shows us words I tagged “funny” (and a few which the OED calls “jocular”), and I’ve been told that my sense of humour is flawed.  For example, I think the word “quoits” sounds funny and that “burglar” is funny for being anti-heroic.  The few delightful plum words are my personal favorites with the “gem” tag (yes, the lovely Cumbrian word “carrock” is also one of my gems). They are the words which I discovered had multiple meanings and nuanced connotations which all contribute to Tolkien’s elegant storycraft.


I first assumed that “burglar”, which appears 37 times in The Hobbit, had been formed from “burgle”, but I was incorrect.  “Burgle” was back-formed from the older word “burglar”, both of which are outside of the Ten Thousand.  OED, bless them, defines “burgle” thusly:

to steal or rob burglariously.

Well, now we’re happy!  “Burglarious”  and its adverb “burglariously” are outside the Hundred Thousand, attested since the 1700s.  I take pleasure in noting that a word outside the hundred thousand most common words in Project Gutenberg is still not called “rare” by OED.

Is “burglar” funny?  It certainly has a funny sound and is awfully… anti-heroic.

[01.116]  ‘That would be no good,’ said the wizard, ‘not without a mighty Warrior, even a Hero. I tried to find one; but warriors are busy fighting one another in distant lands, and in this neighbourhood heroes are scarce, or simply not to be found. Swords in these parts are mostly blunt, and axes are used for trees, and shields as cradles or dish-covers; and dragons are comfortably far-off (and therefore legendary). That is why I settled on burglary –

  • 01.095 He looks more like a grocer than a burglar!’
  • 01.097 or your reference to burglars,
  • 01.098 Burglar wants a good job,
  • 01.098 You can say Expert Treasure-hunter instead of Burglar if you like.
  • 01.100 If I say he is a Burglar,
  • 01.100 a Burglar he is,
  • 01.117 That is why I settled on burglary –
  • 01.117 the burglar,
  • 01.117 and selected burglar.
  • 01.141 Aren’t you the burglar?
  • 02.009 “Thorin and Company to Burglar Bilbo greeting!
  • 02.029 “Bother burgling
  • 02.039 “After all we have got a burglar with us,” they said;
  • 02.041 “Now it is the burglar’s turn,” they said,
  • 02.047 a bit of good quick burgling.
  • 02.047 and legendary burglar would
  • 02.048 Of the various burglarious proceedings he had heard of
  • 06.012 without the burglar,
  • 06.013 And here’s the burglar!’
  • 06.014 If they had still doubted that he was really a first-class burglar,
  • 06.054 You’ve left the burglar behind again!’
  • 06.055 I can’t be always carrying burglars on my back,’
  • 09.012 I am like a burglar that can’t get away,
  • 09.012 burgling the same house
  • 09.031 A pretty fine burglar you make,
  • 09.051 and have to stay lurking as a permanent burglar
  • 10.041 and he strongly suspected attempted burglary
  • 11.026 What is our burglar doing for us?
  • 12.017 More like a grocer than a burglar’ indeed!
  • 12.035 What else do you suppose a burglar is to do?’
  • 12.035 You ought to have brought five hundred burglars not one.
  • 12.078 and so do burglars,’
  • 13.017 Mr. Baggins was still officially their expert burglar
  • 13.021 Now I am a burglar indeed!’
  • 13.029 and help our burglar.’
  • 16.039 I may be a burglar –
  • 17.014 burglar!’
  • 17.016 If you don’t like my Burglar,
  • 18.048 I mean even a burglar has his feelings.

“burglarious, adj.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 1 June 2015.

“burgle, v.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 1 June 2015.


It doesn’t matter who does it, I’ll bet that snores are almost always funny.

  • 09.026 and snored beside his friend.
  • 09.035 still happily snoring with smiles upon their faces.
  • 12.011 of some vast animal snoring
  • 12.016 the rumble of his snoring changed its note.
  • 12.044 with scarcely a snore more than a whiff of unseen steam,
  • 19.009 and he snored comfortably
  • 19.016 And your snores would waken a stone dragon –


Sneezes?  Funny.  The history of the word?  Apparently the word was “fneeze” which went out of use in the early 15th century.

The adoption of sneeze was probably assisted by its phonetic appropriateness; it may have been felt as a strengthened form of neeze.

Phonetic appropriateness – that’s good enough to count with me as sound-play and get the onomatopoeia label.

  • 09.063 of his suppressed sneezes.
  • 09.064 He woke again with a specially loud sneeze.
  • 09.064 and for a mercy he did not sneeze again for a good while.
  • 09.064 Bilbo sneezed again.
  • 10.039 For three days he sneezed
  • 16.019 and in the middle of his snort he sneezed loudly,

“sneeze, v.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 29 May 2015.


Bilbo wishes confustication on the dwarves, dwarves wish the same on him.  OED calls this one colloquial and its etymology “Fantastic alteration of confound and confuse”, attested in the 1891 Farmer and Henley dictionary of American slang and… 1937, The Hobbit.  We may have just been handed our own silver platter as collateral, but that’s just fine with me.

  • 01.059 Confusticate and bebother these dwarves!’
  • 06.012 confusticate him!’
  • 08.064 Hi! hobbit, confusticate you,

“confusticate, v.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 20 May 2015.


Tolkien uses the first definition of “queer” – strange, odd, peculiar, eccentric – and mostly in the first half of the book.  Eccentricities are funny, of course.

  • 01.005 got something a bit queer
  • 01.023 and with the spike on his staff scratched a queer sign
  • 01.093 Gets funny queer fits,
  • 06.024 He gave Bilbo a queer look from under his bushy eyebrows,
  • 06.086 He used to turn queer if he looked over the edge
  • 06.088 He was feeling very queer indeed
  • 07.092 in a queer language
  • 07.116 They must have looked very queer from outside,
  • 07.126 queer,
  • 08.003 There were queer noises too,
  • 11.028 He had a queer feeling that he was waiting for something.
  • 16.018 if it is that queer little creature that is said to be their servant.’

“queer, adj.1.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 11 May 2015.


While “hood” itself is not a terribly funny word, the dwarves are all introduced with them in their many colors and over time they become tattered and draggled, they poke out of webs, and they wave ridiculously before their knees to Beorn.  We associate the hoods with silliness or maybe parochial quaintness by the time we get past the Chapter 10 inflection point.  They contrast with bright helms in Chapter 13, and then!  A hood disguises Gandalf and he dramatically casts it aside to reveal himself.  At the end of the mentions of hoods, Thorin has cast his own aside to reveal a kingly, heroic figure ready for grim battle.  Hoods are softeners, disguises.  I’m going to label them as “funny” until we see a pattern of such words and come up with a better tag.

  • 01.026 and very bright eyes under his dark-green hood.
  • 01.027 He hung his hooded cloak on the nearest peg,
  • 01.031 and a scarlet hood;
  • 01.032 he said when he caught sight of Dwalin’s green hood hanging up.
  • 01.038 both with blue hoods,
  • 01.040 and they both swept off their blue hoods
  • 01.046 and very soon two purple hoods,
  • 01.046 a grey hood,
  • 01.046 a brown hood,
  • 01.046 and a white hood were hanging on the pegs,
  • 01.050 Then they hung up two yellow hoods
  • 01.051 looking at the row of thirteen hoods –
  • 01.051 the best detachable party hoods –
  • 02.025 I have got a spare hood
  • 02.026 and Bilbo was wearing a dark-green hood
  • 02.029 his hood was dripping into his eyes,
  • 06.001 He had lost hood,
  • 06.005 a head with a red hood on:
  • 06.016 and I take off my hood to you.’
  • 07.069 and waving their hoods before their knees
  • 07.128 and sweepings of their hoods
  • 08.031 They could still see his hood
  • 08.088 or a bit of beard or of a hood.
  • 08.106 he thought by the tip of a blue hood sticking out at the top.
  • 10.010 and tattered sky-blue hood
  • 10.020 and draggled hood.
  • 13.041 and their bright helms with their tattered hoods,
  • 17.003 in cloak and hood
  • 17.016 threw aside his hood
  • 17.055 Hood and cloak were gone;