Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Personal Insults in LotR

For some unknown reason, I started wondering about insults in Lord of the Rings.

So of course I've started a compilation.  To constrain the project, I'm collecting only unconditional insults, directly addressed to the insultee.  By unconditional, I mean it's not couched as "you'd be a fool if you did X" or "don't be a fool" or "we would look like blind beggars with one dog" etc.   Because I'm only counting direct insults to another person's face,  I'm excluding (for example) Rory Brandybuck's comment to Esmerelda that Bilbo is mad and a silly old fool.  I'm also excluding Saruman's reference to Pippin as "small rag-tag" because Saruman is speaking to Gandalf – even though the insult is delivered in Pippin's presence.  And I'm excluding self-reproaches.

We have at least the following (in roughly the order of appearance):
  • Gollum to Aragorn and Gandalf (as reported by Gandalf afterward): cruel
  • Butterbur to Nob: woolly-footed slowcoach (143) {human to hobbit}
  • Gandalf to Butterbur (as reported by Gandalf afterward): ass, fool - exasperation 
  • Gandalf to Pippin: fool - anger/exasperation {wizard to hobbit}
  • Gandalf to the Fellowship: fools - urgency
  • Boromir to Frodo: fool, obstinate fool
  • Orc to Pippin: little fool - scorn
  • Ugluk to other orcs: fools - scorn
  • Isengarders to northern orcs: maggots
  • Grishnakh to Pippin and Merry: tender little fools (456)
  • Gandalf to Pippin (as reported by Pippin afterward): tom-fool  
  • Theoden to Gandalf: Stormcrow (513)
  • Gríma to Gandalf: Stormcrow, Láthspell, Ill-news - fear/scorn/hatred?
  • Gandalf to Gríma: snake, witless worm - truth-telling
  • Gimli to Merry and Pippin: rascals, woolly-footed and wool-pated truants, villains (557) - exasperation {dwarf to hobbit}
  • Theoden to Saruman: cold, cruel (579 - truth-telling
  • Theoden to Saruman: liar, corrupter (580) - truth-telling
  • Saruman to Theoden: dotard
  • Frodo to Sam: old ass (606) - affection
  • Gollum to Sam and Frodo: cruel little (615)
  • Sam to Gollum: nasty treacherous (617)
  • Gollum to Sam and Frodo: nasty cruel (617)
  • Gollum to Sam: silly (654)
  • Gollum to Frodo: wicked, tricksy, false (668)
  • Gollum to Sam and Frodo: fools (705)
  • Gollum to Sam: silly (701)
  • Gollum to Sam and Frodo: foolish, silly (708)
  • Sam to Gollum: old villain (713)
  • Gollum to Sam: nassty filthy little sneak (714)
  • Shagrat to Gorbag: fool (740) 
  • Legolas to Merry: Sluggard (775) - affection {elf to hobbit}
  • Black Rider to Gandalf: old fool (828)
  • Lord of the Nazgûl to Dernhelm - fool (841)
  • Denethor to Gandalf: Grey Fool (853) - scorn
  • Gandalf to Denethor's servants: blind (855) - truth-telling
  • Pippin to Merry: ass (869) - affection
  • Mouth of Sauron to Gandalf: greybeard (889)
  • Shagrat to Snaga: little maggot (905)
  • Frodo to Sam: thief (912)
  • Slave-driver orc to Sam and Frodo: slugs (930, 931)
  • Ruffian to Frodo: little cock-a-whoop
  • Pippin to ruffian: ruffian, fool
  • Saruman to Gríma: idiot - scorn
  • Saruman to Merry: thief (984)
  • Butterbur to Nob: woolly-pated ninny, slowcoach (994) {human to hobbit}
  • Saruman to Gríma: Worm - scorn


How often do potentially insulting words appear in the text, excluding index entries?  Some of these mentions involve reactions by people who "overhear" insults about themselves (e.g. Pippin reacts to hearing himself referred to as "rag-tag" by embracing the term to refer to himself).
  • fool - 62 
  • blind - 49 (although only a few of these are insults or self-reproach)
  • maggot - 45 (many involve Farmer Maggot and family)
  • cruel - 41
  • nasty - 24
  • sneak - 22
  • snake - 21 (although only a few are used of or to a character)
  • treacherous - 18
  • treachery - 18
  • thief - 17
  • wicked - 17
  • silly - 15
  • false - 14
  • villain - 11
  • traitor - 10 
  • squint/squint-eyed - 9 (mostly used by narrator to describe bad guys)
  • sneering - 9
  • stupid - 8
  • nassty - 8
  • rascal - 6
  • witless - 6
  • murderer/murderous - 5
  • liar - 5 
  • dotard - 5
  • stormcrow - 4
  • beastly - 4 (used to characterize others not present)
  • woolly-footed/woolly-pated/wool-pated - 4
  • slowcoach - 3
  • ass - 3
  • sluggard - 3
  • small rag-tag - 3
  • ninny/ninny-hammers - 3
  • greybeard -3
  • idiot - 2
  • rogue - 2
  • tricksy - 2
  • slugs - 2
  • cock-a-whoop - 1
  • cut-throats - 1
  • vagabond - 1 (Aragorn's characterization of Butterbur's likely opinion of him)
  • pimply - 1 (used to characterize Lotho, who is not present)
  • oaf - 0
  • clod - 0
  • lazy - 0
  • burglar - 0
  • deaf - 0
  • buffoon - 0
  • good-for-nothing - 0
Feb. 25th Update: Joe has kicked it up several notches with a wonderfully comprehensive character-network map showing the network of everyone who calls someone else "fool" in LotR, ditching most of the constraints I've adopted: http://www.idiosophy.com/2018/02/network-of-fools/ 
(I'd just be curious to see the lines weighted to show if someone – say, perhaps, Gandalf – calls someone else – such as, for example, Pippin – "fool" multiple times.)

Apr. 1st Update: Don't have time for all these silly blog posts?  Try listening to the Prancing Pony Podcast instead: https://theprancingponypodcast.com/2018/04/01/076-the-ministry-of-silly-locks/ 

4 comments:

Tom Hillman said...

In The Silmarillion Glaurung calls Turin 'captain foolhardy', and a disguised servant of Morgoth says that in seeking the Light in the West, Men have followed a 'fool-fire' of the Elves. There are no other uses of 'fool'

LeesMyth said...

Cool!!! Thanks, Tom. I suppose that makes sense, given the genre of The Silmarillion, and who's purportedly writing it. (Or at least, I'd expect the hobbits to be a little earthier, perhaps, in their descriptions. More likely to remember and report insults than the elves generally, and they're writing something closer to chronicles than to myth.)

And might it also make sense in The Silmarillion that only those who are trying to fool others into evil thoughts and evil deeds would think of using the word "fool"?

Joe Hoffman said...

Elves in "Smith of Wootton Major" don't call anyone a fool, either.

LeesMyth said...

No fool-calling in BoLT 1.

In BoLT 2:
- Tevildo says it of Beren the Elf
- Túrin to Orgof
- the drake to Túrin
- Foalókë to Nienóri and Mavwin: fools, liars, cravens
- Melko to Úrin: "O foolish one"
- King Tinwelint to outlaws: "O foolish ones"
- Gwendelin to Nauglador: fool, thief, murderer