Book Review: The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary by Peter Gilliver, et al. (Five Stars)

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Book Review: The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary by Peter Gilliver, E.S.C. Weiner, Jeremy Marshal

(Five Stars)

“Writers have been borrowing words from their predecessors for centuries.”

The intersection of Middle Earth and the love of words. Who could want more? (Other folks maybe, but not me.) The best non-fiction I’ve read in years. No, it’s not that well written, but it’s exhaustively researched.

“Within fantasy literature, Tolkien’s coinages and distinctive uses can be found everywhere.”

Before the internet, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) was heaven for word lovers to noodle around in. Tolkien worked on the first edition in his first job after World War I.

Lore-master evidently fills a gap, and has apparently made its way out beyond the restricted context of fantasy into general use.”

While the sections on Tolkien’s work on the OED are interesting, the Word Studies are my favorite. Amazing and gratifying to see that Tolkien didn’t just invent words: he researched them. In essence he built an etymology for each word, as if it had developed on its own without his midwifing it. Given his day job, it’s no surprise most sprouted from the rich loam of the Anglo-Saxon languages. (“Middle-earth,” for example, is derived via Middle English middel-erthe, middel-erd from middangeard, an Anglo-Saxon cognate of Old Norse Miðgarðr, the land inhabited by humans in Norse mythology.)

“The English language has begun the process of assimilating Tolkien’s personal word-hoard. And the OED will continue to record this record.”

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