If Chance We Call it…

I’ve been waiting a long time to make this chart of some very special common words.  These are every permutation of “chance”, “luck”, “fate”, and “fortune” found in The Hobbit, from “lucky” to “unfortunately”.  We see some when Bilbo finds the ring, yet more when he brags to Smaug about being named Luck-Wearer and Lucky Number.


Highest peak of all, however, is in Chapter 9.

[09.025] When he heard this Bilbo was all in a flutter, for he saw that luck was with him and he had a chance at once to try his desperate plan.  He followed the two elves, until they entered a small cellar and sat down at a table on which two large flagons were set.  Soon they began to drink and laugh merrily. Luck of an unusual kind was with Bilbo then.  It must be potent wine to make a wood-elf drowsy; but this wine, it would seem, was the heady vintage of the great gardens of Dorwinion, not meant for his soldiers or his servants, but for the king’s feasts only, and for smaller bowls not for the butler’s great flagons.

This graph peaks at three-and-a-half words per thousand, and I note with interest that Chapter 15 has no luck, ill or otherwise, about it.  The threatened war between those who should be allies was entirely their own will.  Now… I’ve lumped “fate” with “luck” here.  Is fate not something to do with the will of divinity?  or with the poetic demands of Story?  Much has been written and more will be – I invite comments, particularly with links to your own work.

Intriguing Hyphens

I nourish ideas about the different people Bilbo encountered in Middle Earth and the different languages those people spoke (although they may all have spoken Bilbo’s own language to him during the adventure there and back again).  I’ve mentioned a few times already that Tolkien uses a goodly number of hyphenated words which are not hyphenated in the OED (snow-peak, egg-question, check the Concordance for all 608 of them). Either they are separate words that he’s joined or compound words that he has separated.  He even had made compound words of ones which the OED says are separate words or hyphenated!  I thought of searching for these words to see if they show a particular region of Middle Earth which speaks a language that flexibly mooshes words together to express meaning more specifically.  Would the right word for that be agglutinative?

Well, it’s easy enough to search on hyphens (fear not, I took out the dashes).  I’m just going to leave this graph here for folks to nibble with their second breakfast.

Hyphenated Graph

I’m not sure what to make of it yet; my first approximation is that Westron, Bilbo’s native language, is the agglutinative one and that Mirkwood and the effects of dragon-sickness were both so depressing as to shock Bilbo out of his usual speech patterns.

Everybody Wins!!

This is the graph under consideration:


The Tolkien Professor has observed that Bilbo’s big crossroads are finding the ring, killing the spider, and going down the tunnel toward the dragon.  Each scene includes making an active choice to move forward in the dark.

[05.007]  ‘Go back? ‘ he thought.  ‘No good at all!  Go sideways?  Impossible!  Go forward?  Only thing to do!  On we go!’

Clearly these three choice points show up in our graph plus two more peaks – the end of Chapter 1 right before he runs out his front door without a pocket handkerchief, and the end of Chapter 17 (here we have run up against my unsteady hand copying the graph from Lexos in a flawed manner so that the chapter lines I drew don’t quite match up).  The words at that peak point are [17.062] “he had seen a sight that made his heart leap, dark shapes small yet majestic against the distant glow.”  Also, the Chapter 8 spider-killing peak extends into Chapter 9 and, although the Chapter 6 peak is overshadowed by the Chapter 5, there is one almost as large as the Chapter 12 and deserves mention!

Big thanks to Comfort & Food Guessers Kris, DMae, SonofSaradoc, Marie, Molly, SLMcAdie!

And Well Done Adventure & Challenge Guessers Dr Dmitra Fimi, Mattclen2, Repton, Tom Hillman, Galiodoc, Tom, SonofSaradoc!

And Shout-Out to Plot-Driven Guessers TriGirlJ, Tiberius, Ronan, Tom Hillman, Logan, Moxie, SonofSaradoc!

And the Winner is Kaypendragon!  The name “Bilbo” makes this graph!

Are you fascinated, too?  I hope that like me, you’re inspired to sift through the ends of Chapter 1 and ends of Chapter 17 as well as Barrels Out of Bond to see how they are related to Bilbo’s three big crossroads, or if we have a larger category here.  Do these six sections define the character even as his name identifies him?

Olsen, Corey. Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012. Print.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Annotated Hobbit.  Revised and expanded edition annotated by Douglas A. Anderson. Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston. Print.

A Most Fascinating Graph – and a Little Contest

Quick, Word Fans, without thinking too hard, name the scenes wherein Bilbo makes his greatest personal growth – makes his famous choices!  My picks are –

  • Chapter 5, Riddles in the Dark, when going forward is the only thing to do, his hand comes upon a ring, and he survives by his wits against a very disturbing adversary
  • Chapter 8, Flies and Spiders, when he draws and names his little sword and rescues his friends from spiders
  • Chapter 9, Barrels Out of Bond, when he plans and enacts a daring escape for himself and thirteen dwarves
  • Chapter 12, Inside Information, when he matches wits with a dragon!!
  • Chapter 16, A Thief in the Night, when he has wrestled his ethics into their proper order and saves his friend Thorin by betraying him

Well, I was noodling around with Lexos, as you do, and plugging in different words to see if they made a pretty pattern.  My picks up above do not quite match this new graph, but four out of six ain’t badBilbo

Here’s the contest: Of what one word in The Hobbit does this graph represent the frequency?

Update 2015.07.08 – this is the graph of the word “Bilbo” – congratulations KayPendragon!  I’ve added the word to the legend of the graph

The first correct answerer in the comments section will receive a custom made minisock – suitable for decorating holiday trees – in your choice of the scarlet-and-gold of the Signum University Eagles or the purple-and-silver of the Mythgard Institute Dragons.

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.

Archaic word peaks

My advisor was intrigued to see the peak in archaic words at the beginning of Chapter 9.  Here is the graph of those words superimposed on the uncommon word graph.

2015.06.15 Archaic & Uncommon Graph

Since the archaic words are a subset of the uncommon words, we know that the scale must be smaller; in this case it’s about one-twentieth the scale of the red graph (who scale is shown over on the left).  Where you see the red and green graphs equal, that means there’s one archaic word in every twenty uncommon ones.

While we have the leisure, let’s break down each of those archaic peaks.

  • Archaic words in the troll peak:  laden merrily merry canny lout glimpses merrily merry merry
  • Archaic words in the leap-in-the-dark peak: glimpse orcs glimpse bewildered glimpsed
  • Archaic words in Mirkwood: glimpses accursed merry merrily lob lob merrymaking eldest kinsfolk merrily merrymaking merry merry yonder merry merry kine mead glimpse merry
  • Archaic words in Chapters 17 through the end: bewilderment kinsmen alas, kinsfolk merrily merry merrier merry bewildered elder wrought unwrought merrier merry merry merry laden merry merry merry merry merry merry elders

Well!  We seem to have a merriment detector working for us!  And the word merry we can use broadly as an elf-detector!  Everything we have had to say about archaic words is tagged here, and the concordance entry for “Merry” is right here.

My original thought was that archaic words – tagged by the OED as “obsolete”, “archaic”, “rare”, “colloquial” – would indicate high register.  These words certainly contribute – but their numbers are too few to be a robust finding.  We will take the clue about elves and tuck it away for consideration.

1951: How do sound words contribute?

Remember the 1951-new paragraphs?  The mountains of uncommon words in bright red above the valleys of pale red?  They are marked by the phrases “Show the nasty little Baggins the way out”, “Curse us and crush us, my precious is lost!”, and “To the back door, that’s it.”


Got them spotted?  OK.  I’m going to take out the pale red 1937 line and put in the 1951 purple sound line.  Ready?

1951.05.UnCo& Sound

Great elephants!  In 1937, the sound words dropped to about a third of the Riddle-Game-climax peak for the remainder of the chapter.  Not so in 1951!

The sound words are not just frequent, they’re punching higher in frequency than they did before, and we see from the shapes of the graphs that the sound words drive the frequency of uncommon words.  These sections – approximately paragraphs [05.080] to [05.132] – are the ones Tolkien added to tie this text forward to The Lord of the Rings as he was writing and discovering that longer, more complex work.

We’ve already listed the words which appeared in the 1951-only paragraphs but not the 1937-only paragraphs and vice versa; that would measure whether the new paragraphs were formed out of the words of the retiring paragraphs.  There is another way to look at those unique-paragraph words, of course – to compare the new paragraphs of 1951 to the entire 1937 chapter.  I’m pleased to report that list is almost the same as the previous.

Almost all of the new words, naturally, occur from paragraph 80 to 132.  Here they are – the completely new uncommon words from 1951.

  • Words we tagged as sound words (tagged by the OED, or from Gollum’s idiolect, or Gollum’s name and characteristic throat noise): cracking creepsy eyeses goblinses Gollum hates gurgling hissing  losst screech shriek smells sniffed squeaked squeaker ssss tricksy
  • other uncommon words (note how many begin with S): back-door  betterment birthday-present blindly blood-curdling bowstring brooded  crawling  crouched  dursn’t flattened  forefinger  galled  gleamed  gnaw  goblin-imp  groping  hiding-place  humped  leapt  maddened  menacing  menacingly  mouse noser nosey oddments  paddling  palely   panted  peered  pricked  quicker shambling sharpened sharper sheathed shiver side-passages snag  sneaking softer splayed squeezes  stab stiffened swayed tripping  tense tunnel-wall  unlost unmarked

footnote: The scales are the same as last post’s graph lines – the red uncommon words line is on the 0.00 to 0.16 scale as shown and the purple sound line is on 0.00 to 0.09.  

1937: How do sound words contribute?

We know that there are plenty of sound words in Chapter 5.  How much do they contribute to the uncommon words of 1937?


That correspondence looks quite strong – and let me give you more grist for the mill.  Lexos draws each individual graph at a scale that visually fills up the space for us to see the patterns clearly, it recalculates what the scale should be for every new graph.  As I reminded us in the last post, in looking at the whole book, Lexos draws the purple sound graph at about 33% of the red uncommon graph: where the two lines match, for every 100 red uncommon words, 33 of them are purple sound words.

When we look only at Chapter 5, Lexos draws the purple sound graph at 56%: where the two lines match, for every 100 red uncommon words, 56 of them are purple sound words.  The strength of the sound words’ contribution to our red graph is almost doubled.

Well, then.  Chapter 5 is full to the brim with sound words!  It’s certainly not unexpected, after all it’s dark in those caverns.  Each sound is magnified, and it’s the strongest sense Bilbo has working for him to perceive his situation.  Here’s a sample of how the sound words and the other uncommon words work together in a paragraph which is identical in both editions:

[05.007]  ‘Go back?  ‘ he thought.  ‘No good at all!  Go sideways?  Impossible!  Go forward?  Only thing to do!  On we go!’ So up he got, and trotted along with his little sword held in front of him and one hand feeling the wall, and his heart all of a patter and a pitter.

We can also notice that the “scrumptiously crunchable” peak is not particularly driven by sound words.  That may or may not be of particular interest, but it does reassure us that the strength of the sound graph elsewhere is not an error, as we can see that it’s not omnipresent.

After the peak at the climax of the riddle game, we observe that the sound words recede to about a third of that peak.

Footnote: I have debated erasing those y-axis scales on the left hand side completely, yet I feel an obligation to make my Lexos graphs comparable to those produced by other scholars.  The scale on the sound words, which I described above as “56%” is from 0.0 to 0.09. If you need to articulate those number sentences more clearly, “for every hundred words, 16 are uncommon, of which 9 are sound words”.  I don’t have the skills to read the OpenSource code which the Lexos programmers wrote, but I used to be a statistician in the days of punch cards and carrier pigeons.  If you ask me questions about the numbers, I can probably ask Tech Support to read the code and tell me the details so I can make a coherent explanation.

1937 & 1951: Do the uncommon words differ?

A few weeks ago, we noticed that the longest sustained high frequency of uncommon words takes place in Chapters 3, 4, and 5 – in Rivendell, captured by goblins, and with Gollum.  Surely that’s not the rhetorical peak of the work – what is happening in these chapters?  We examined those special word categories we’ve been tracking – archaic words, food words, and sound words – and found a huge peak:

2015.06.15 Sound & Uncommon Graph

What was Tolkien doing with all those sound words – clearly the purple Sound Word graph drives the red Uncommon Words graph.  We do remember that the purple line is on a 1/3 scale: when the purple and red lines match, the number of sound words is about 1/3 of the total number of uncommon words at that point.  Although they’re not identical, the coincidence of the peaks at “a small slimy creature” and the similarity of the shapes of those peaks is suggestive.

Earlier I asked “How did Tolkien do that?”  Today I ask… “How did he do it and what did he do?”  Tolkien’s subtle hand with words operates on multiple levels.  As Blackwelder observed:

We may assume that a reader is following the story and the characters and may sometimes fail to notice the unusual words, phrases, or even passages.

We come out into the sunlight at the end of Chapter 5 breathing a huge sigh of relief… when we were safe at home in our comfortable reading chairs the whole time.  How did he use the words, phrases, and passages to effect us emotionally – subliminally?

Well then, let’s take advantage of the writing and publication history of The Hobbit and take a close look at Chapter 5, the chapter which we know he changed in order to change the facts and the feeling of the story.  Here is the graph of uncommon words of Chapter 5 as it was written in 1937.  For this much smaller sample, I used a rolling average on windows of 200 words.


I’ve placed a few textual landmarks – I love that “scrumptiously crunchable” is one peak and that the highest frequency is right at the end of the riddle game as Gollum is waiting for Bilbo’s last question.

You can see an artificial valley right as Gollum cannot find the ring, another one from about word 4250 to word 4900, and the largest and last one after Bilbo puts on the ring which stretches until he and Gollum part ways.  I call these “artificial valleys” because at these points the 1951 Chapter 5 has different paragraphs and I inserted the word “and” in each spot enough times to match those 1951 paragraphs’ word count without making a false image of uncommon words.

We’ve looked at which words are new in the 1951 edition (and which were lost from the 1937); are those words evenly distributed through the chapter?  Keep your eyes on those artificial valleys as I show you the 1951 graph overlaid on this 1937.


Look at those valleys!  Over all three 1937 valleys are towering 1951 mountains of uncommon words!  When he wrote those extra paragraphs, Tolkien pulled out the stops.  “Pocketses” and “Curse us and crush us!”  In the “curse us and crush us” spot in 1937, Gollum repeats “bless us and splash us”!  What effect did Tolkien accomplish and how did he do it?  I’m going there in the next blog post.

You can even see the small artificial valleys in the bright red line where I inserted “and” in the 1951 to make up the word count from the extra 1937 paragraphs.  Those 1937 paragraphs which were removed were definitely not peak word moments, they toddled along in a manner that looks pretty average for the rest of the chapter.  Notice that the graphs remain the same shape but become disjoined during the riddle game?  That follows a few spots where 1951 adds just a few words in just a few sentences, pushing that bright red 1951 line slightly rightward.