dwarves etc.

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Thu Mar 8 07:16:37 UTC 2001

 From Jim Landau:

 >>On what evidence does Tolkien postulate the form *dwarrows? (or *dwerrows?)

Simplifying a little, quoting the OED [using "gh" for yogh ("3")]:

Old English "dweorgh" (plural "dweorghas") = "dwarf" (cf. German "Zwerg")
evolved in four ways:

(a) > dwergh > dorche > current ("local") Scots "droich"
(b) > dwerf > current English "dwarf"
(c) > dwerwe > dwerowe [extinct] (based on the plural "dweorghas" >
"dwarrows") [this apparently is what Tolkien is referring to]
(d) > dwery [extinct] (based on the inflected "dweorghe-")

Somewhat analogous to OE "dragan"/"dragh-" > current "drag",
"draught"/"draft", "draw", "dray", I guess. Any expert is invited to
correct my misconceptions.

It's not clear to me whether or not there ever was a common pluralization
like "dwerf"/"dwerrows": maybe some people said "dwerf"/"dwerfs" or so
while others in the same period said "dwerrow"/"dwerrows" or so. Someone
more familiar with the history of the language may know about this.

 >>... the plurals ... are "scarves" and "wharves".

OR "scarfs", "wharfs" (per MW, AH, RH dictionaries).

I asked two young persons (ages 12, 8) to pluralize "dwarf", "scarf",
"hoof". Both answered "dwarves" (although both have seen the Disney video
with "dwarfs", and neither has read Tolkien or similar material),
"scarves", "hooves". Apparently they were taught in school that "-f" is
usually pluralized "-ves". They both gave "roofs", however. (The
12-year-old additionally was able to confidently produce "oafs" and
"briefs", and to differentiate "staffs"/"staves", and to intuit a
difference between "dwarves"/"dwarfs" in folklore/astronomy. How do they
learn this stuff?)

-- Doug Wilson

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