What’s Going On in Chapter Eight?

I’m beginning to dive into Mirkwood, Word Fans. We all know that something special is going on in Chapter 8, but what? Yes, it’s true, I awakened at 4am because I am excited to get going! Ready for some spicy numbers?

Chapter 8 has

  • 10,301 words
  • 1,789 distinct words
  • 954 of which are used only once. My goodness. 53%. Now, that’s actually not statistically different from the 42% unique-to-total ratio of the whole work, it’s only one comparison, and we don’t know how widely the other chapters vary. But it is absolutely mathematically accurate to say “My goodness.”

Introducing a new tag this morning: “eight”, meaning “let’s talk about Chapter XIII, shall we? I’ll put the kettle on.”

Some Numbers to Warm Us on an Early Mud Season Evening

While I promise that I’m not beginning big project on apostrophes, I thought that my Word Fans would like to know that there are 3006 of them in The Hobbit.

I find 96,134 words in the work, 6320 distinct words, and 2707 of these occur only once. I am ready to bet that a 42% distinct word count is … unusual.

For examples of words used only once which are not already in our concordance – therefore are common – here’s the challenge I shall accept for the letter A. (AROUND!!! Wow!)

  • accomplished
  • active
  • advantage
  • affect
  • affection
  • afford
  • aground
  • alliances
  • amount
  • ample
  • anyhow
  • apologetically
  • appealed
  • appointed
  • appreciatively
  • around
  • array
  • arts
  • assembled
  • attend
  • aye

Hyphenated Words of the Landscape

I’ve spent a good deal of yesterday and today assigning functions to the 407 hyphenated words.  I’ve also beaten myself up a bit for not preserving the inflected forms of the words on my spreadsheet and went back to re-capture that information.  Then there was that little capitalization inconsistency problem.  I know, I could have asked Tech Support to make the script I was using case-insensitive, but I hate to bother them too many times per week.  On the Big Plus side, I discovered ConvertCase.net for all your Latin alphabet capitalization needs!

Sorry, I’m nattering.

In the course of labeling the functions of words, I found a big old whack of natural landscape descriptions, “bee-pastures”, “fir-trees”, and similar.  Let’s look at the graph!


Do you like it?  Descriptions in early Chapter 2, as Bilbo is leaving his home territory; very few descriptions in the dark of the goblins’ and Gollum’s caverns until the side-passages and similar formations on Bilbo’s way out; a steep peak for the “pine-needles”, “forest-gloom”,  “forest-silence”, and “sea-sighing”, all of paragraph 6.045, as we leapt out of the “frying-pan”.

Landscape words taper off as we see Bilbo at a loss for words to describe Mirkwood, then suddenly, Smaug discovers the theft of the cup!  We take the dragon’s perspective as he shakes the mountain-roots, exits the mountain-palace, settles on the mountain-top, licks the mountain-sides with flame, and leaves rock-shadows dancing in paragraphs [12.021] through [12.032].   Finally, during the battle-scenes of Chapter 17, there is no looking about at the landscape: that pleasure can only resume in Chapter 18, The Return Journey.

JRRT’s Original Hyphenated Words

Good morning, Word Fans.  I hope it doesn’t intrude on your peace over the next three days, but the blog is going into overdrive to fulfill its other primary role as my lab notebook.  Please practice good self-care: if you need to, unsubscribe until Sunday afternoon, when things should return to normal.

Just over half of the hyphenated words in The Hobbit are perfectly ordinary English words, per the OED.  Some of them may have no hyphen  in the preferred spelling, some may have a space instead of a hyphen between the elements, but the hyphenated forms are found at least in the example sentences of the OED.

The other part of the hyphenated words have received the JRRT tag.   Of these, some are given by OED specifically as creations of Tolkien, such as “elf-king“!  Others are credited to Tolkien for introducing the hyphenated form, for example “riddle-game”.  Some, like “raven-messenger” are in the OED just so, but Tolkien has used them with a completely new meaning, earning the tag.  The majority, including Middle-earth specific names like “Foe-Hammer” as well but many more plain words such as “thunder-battle” are simply not found in OED at all.

In what pattern did Tolkien use these inventions?  Is there anything to be discerned from the map of them?


Fascinating.  OK, I’m going to compare it to yesterday’s graph of all hyphenated words:

HyphenGraph.010As the Tolkien Professor would say, “What do we see?”  Here’s a clue we can use to compare the charts: Lexos makes the chart fit the space, even if the height of the red line is on a different scale from chart to chart.  Since the JRRT words number just under half of the total hyphenated words, know that the scale is doubled.  In other words, the “pretty full in the beginning of chapter five” appearance of the red line on the first, JRRT, graph would be equal to “filling up just about half of the available height” on the second, All Hyphens graph.

  • The big Chapter One peak of hyphenated words is not driven by JRRT originals.
  • The peak in JRRT words at the end of Chapter 3 is driven by all the doings in Rivendell of Elrond the elf-friend, fair as an elf-lord, his house full of story-telling, and who explains that the swords just found are not troll-make but made for the Goblin-wars: Goblin-cleaver and Foe-hammer.
  • I observe that the first half of Chapter 5 – full of sound words like drip-drip-dripping – is about half-full on the All Hyphens graph and quite full on the JRRT graph; in other words, Tolkien created the hyphenated words which set the stage and open the action for Gollum’s chapter.
  • I see that there’s a dip in the JRRT graph at the end of Chapter 6 which is not echoed in the All Hyphens graph.  Although there are JRRT words there, there are also pine-needles and frying-pans, quite ordinary words.
  • After Chapter 6, the JRRT graph roughly parallels the All Hyphens graph; his original hyphenated words take up their expected proportion of all hyphenated words.

Updated Hyphen Peak

As my Word Fans know, in the last two years I have found a handful more hyphenated words that escaped my 2015 analysis.  While I would have been surprised if these few had changed the overall hyphen picture, it’s best to be certain.

This passage is the densest region of hyphens.

[01.117] 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 – especially when I remembered the existence of a Side-door.  And here is our little Bilbo Baggins, the burglar, the chosen and selected burglar.  So now let’s get on and make some plans.’

[01.118]  ‘Very well then,’ said Thorin, ‘supposing the burglar-expert gives us some ideas or suggestions.’ He turned with mock-politeness to Bilbo.

Our graph was created using LEXOS and marked up with GIMP.  It acts as a map of the frequency of hyphenated words in The Hobbit across the chapters.


Distinct and unique words in The Shire

Let’s look at our new word lists carefully.  I have used Lexos for today’s numbers, so we will move to the official Lexos count of words:

  • In the Shire text: 11,073 words
  • Distinct words within the Shire: 3,013 words
  • Words which occur only once in The Shire: 2,029
  • Words which occur only in the Shire: 559 (that’s from me, not Lexos)

That rate of 27% distinct words (3,013/11,073) is crazy high!  And 18% unique words?  In a non-technical work?  pretty much unheard of in contemporary work – I would be excited to compare this to Lewis Carroll, C.S. Lewis, and perhaps Patrick Rothfuss!  (Oh, why is Lexos’ count different from mine?  Lexos counted the word “Chapter” nineteen times, as well as the Roman numerals for chapters, and any numerals in the text).

But before I hand-type the Slow Regard of Silent Things (about half the length of The Hobbit), let’s compare The Hobbit to The Hobbit.  I used our new random-text-grab script to create a same-size file using words from the whole work (Dear Dave Kale and other number fans, the random grab works with replacement).

  • In the Random text: 11,073 words
  • Distinct words: 2,050 words
  • Words which occur only once in the grabbed text: 1,109

So that’s a rate of 18.5% distinct words and 10% unique words.  Drat it all.  You know me, now I have to see those rates for the whole work.

  • In the whole text: 97,436 words
  • Distinct words: 12,325
  • Words which occur only once in the total text: 7,091

We have in the total text a rate of 12.5% distinct words and 7.2% unique words.  The randomly-grabbed text is not the same.

… and Tech Support just texted me that they would be able to moosh on the code so that the floating-point math definitely doesn’t get in the way.  For total transparency, this is where Tech Support goes far and away beyond me.  I’ve heard of floating points, and I cheered in the 90s when they were available because I saw the numbers behave better… but I wouldn’t know a floating point from a non-floating point to save my soul.


The Shire and Mirkwood compared to random text grabs.

From earlier this week: The Shire text uses 11,119 words, of which 1,484 do not appear in Mirkwood, this is counting every word used – “yes” counts as six words.  That’s 13.3% Shire words.

What we learned today: The Shire text compared to a random word grab of the same sample size – 1,339 Shire words do not match my random text.  That is basically indistinguishable from the Mirkwood difference.  Hmm, fascinating!  Yet most of our Lexos graphs which show both regions paint them as very different from one another at the word level.  Hold on…

Oho!  the Mirkwood text has more words – 16,400 – and only 1,265 are different from a random grab of 16,400 words in the whole novel.  That’s 7.7%.  Very different, my friends!

Let’s clean that up a bit:

  • Shire text: 11,119 words
  • Shire words not appearing in Mirkwood: 13.3%
  • Shire words not appearing in Random text: 12%
  • Mirkwood text: 16,400 words
  • Mirkwood words not appearing in the Shire text: 14.6
  • Mirkwood words not appearing in Random text: 7.7%

Well, well, well.  time to poke at Mirkwood a bit, friends.  Also, it’s time to use the newly-discovered Lexos feature “how many of these words are unique”!  See you soon!