Queer

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.

Hood

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;

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.