Bewuther

This beautiful word is a Tolkien back-formation from a rare spelling of the obsolete verb “whither”: to make a blustering sound or rage about in the manner of the wind.  “Be-whither” – surround with confusing sounds and rush of energy – becomes “bewuthered”.  Magnificent!  Thanks to Alert Reader Grace who pointed out “Wuthering Heights” to the good of this entry!

“Bewuther” comes just as Gandalf raps on Bilbo’s door in Chapter 1 to introduce the last dwarves and incidentally obscure the mark he had made previously on that door.

[01.048] Bilbo rushed along the passage, very angry, and altogether bewildered and bewuthered – this was the most awkward Wednesday he ever remembered.

Not only are we just getting to know our prosaic little protagonist, but he’s having an awkward Wednesday.  We’re thoroughly in the Children’s Story mode where things are more funny than scary.  Tolkien plays with the sounds of the words because he’s telling the story out loud.  He has invented a word which we absolutely understand as much because of its form as its context.  “Be-” suggests that the feeling of bewutherment is an intense one.  The W sound alliterates with “bewildered”, allowing us to assume that “wuthering” has as much to do with being lost as “wildering”.

  • 01.048 and bewuthered –

“ˈwhither, v.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 9 May 2015.

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.

Bob

Bobbing – it’s undignified, but sometimes it’s your only option.  Bilbo tries to bow graciously and misses, it come out as bobbing on the mat.  Fili or Kili in a spider’s web bob like a toy on a wire.  Barrels bob in water, and it is the natural walking gait of elderly ravens.

  • 01.095 bobbing and puffing on the mat
  • 01.096 As for little fellow bobbing on the mat
  • 08.106 bobbing on a wire.
  • 09.020 bobbing along,
  • 09.050 and bobbing away down the current.
  • 09.056 of a bobbing
  • 09.057 Some of those that bobbed along by him
  • 15.013 and bobbed towards Thorin.

Wag

Wag appears eight times, mostly before chapter ten, but the last time in Chapter 11.  Beards and heads wag (which sounds funny to me!) and in Chapter 7 in Beorn’s home, dwarves are bowing and scraping so comically that the big man laughs and enjoins them to “stop wagging” their whole bodies.

Please note that here we find “a-wagging”, the only one of the a-gerunds uncommon enough to make it into our list.

  • 01.071 while the shadow of Gandalf’s beard wagged against the wall.
  • 01.090 who was wagging his mouth
  • 03.010 His head and beard wagged this way and that
  • 03.016 With beards all a-wagging?
  • 06.046 Thorin’s beard wagging beside him,
  • 06.046 and my stomach is wagging like an empty sack.’
  • 07.070 and stop wagging!’
  • 11.032 and the dwarves with wagging beards watching impatiently.

Quoits

Quoits, that ageless game of throwing something round (and sometimes heavy) for distance and/or accuracy, appears but once in our text.  In the middle of the spider attack in Mirkwood when the dwarves are endangered and Bilbo reaches for a stone to throw, our narrator interrupts his narrative.  He takes a moment during this scene of high tension to list Bilbo’s childhood and adulthood pastimes.

  • 08.092   and even grown-up he had still spent a deal of his time at quoits,

“Quoits” helps break the tension of the scene into child-sized portions – the game itself is relaxing and fun.  Quoits was played in the Shire at the end of the Third Age and Quoits Associations can be found in Britain and North America in the beginning of the third millennium of the Common Era.  Since it is a game of antiquity, I believe that it contributes to the old-fashioned or even parochial setting of the Shire.  Finally, say it aloud.  “Quoits” is a very funny word.

Toes

I am about to eliminate “toes”, as “toe” is in the Ten Thousand, but wanted to share a delicious tidbit.  We see “toes” twelve times before chapter ten and only twice thereafter.  I believe that, like “eyebrows”, toes are funny and just not the right tool for the job when the tale moves to high register.

  • 01.006 that reached nearly down to his woolly toes
  • 01.089 may the hair on his toes never fall out!
  • 02.060 and he picked him up by the toes
  • 02.065 Hold his toes
  • 02.080 and down to his toes.
  • 04.017 even than when the troll had picked him up by his toes.
  • 05.050 and fell on Bilbo’s toes.
  • 05.106 but suddenly he struck his toes on a snag
  • 05.133 he stubbed his poor toes again,
  • 06.046 My toes are all bruised
  • 06.086 when he looked down between his dangling toes
  • 08.043 sank back into his toes:
  • 16.011 I would give a good deal for the feel of grass at my toes.’
  • 19.028 as well known to him as his hands and toes.

Note that in chapter 16, as Bilbo has made up his mind to return things to rights, “toes” return; then again we have “toes” in chapter nineteen “when they were in sight of the country where Bilbo had been born and bred,”

Eyebrows

“Eyebrows” appear five times in The Hobbit, and four of those times they are bushy.

  • 01.008 But Gandalf looked at him from under long bushy eyebrows
  • 01.100 and stuck out his bushy eyebrows,
  • 06.024 He gave Bilbo a queer look from under his bushy eyebrows,
  • 07.038 with his bushy black eyebrows.
  • 08.107 and eyebrows,

Three times they are Gandalf’s eyebrows, once Beorn’s and once Fili’s.  I find it interesting that eyebrows are mentioned only in the first half of the book – surely Gandalf looked gruffly out from under them when he was camped with Bard, surely someone’s got singed in the dragon-attack.  I’m having an idea.

I’ve read general agreement that the tone of The Hobbit changes around chapter 10.  I hypothesize that the moment when Thorin says

  • 10.020: “I am Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror”

is the inflection point in the theoretical graph of changes in diction in this work.  I believe that eyebrows are funny, particularly bushy ones, and their comic value keeps them unmentioned in the higher-register second half of the book. Not that Tolkien sat himself down with a list of funny words and said, “None of you shall appear after Barrels Out of Bond!” but that they simply weren’t the right tools for the job after that point.  I take it upon myself to make the theoretical graph a reality – those who know me know I am unable to resist!