Inventing a language is no easy undertaking. I can't imagine Tolkien just plucking words from the air and going with them, so I opine that he must have meticulously chosen and changed his made-up words as he saw fit.

With the posthumously publishised works of Tolkien, including older tales and many works in progress, I was wondering if a word Tolkien invented has ever had its meaning changed. Or, has a word in English ever gone through multiple different words before a final was chosen?

Edit: Due to the fact this question's answer could be quite broad, I've decided to narrow it down somewhat, to only include answers I'm truly interested in -- that being answers regarding the changes of meaning behind the names of people and places that appear in The Lord of the Rings.

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    I've added a little edit to the original post. Hopefully this rectifies the broadness.
    – Recelica
    Jan 19, 2017 at 23:45
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    I'm pretty sure he did. I know I read somewhere about some words that Tolkien changed his mind about; unfortunately I cannot remember any examples :(
    – Andres F.
    Jan 19, 2017 at 23:48
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    @Mooz - How is it too broad? The question is "were any words changed?", not "what were all the words changed?".
    – ibid
    Jan 20, 2017 at 0:29
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    As an example, Tolkien never seemed to settle on the origin or meaning of Incanus, one of Gandalf's more obscure names. See scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/83380/…
    – chepner
    Jan 20, 2017 at 17:23
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    This question is not too broad. It's simply about whether Tolkien had ever changed the meaning of his Elvish words. I've posted an answer and an example, with links for further reading. In fact, it's one of the more simple questions about Tolkien.
    – Maksim
    Jan 22, 2017 at 9:34

1 Answer 1


Short answer - yes.

I'll quote the Tolkien Estate article on his invented languages:

Just as Tolkien’s Legendarium underwent decades of development and change both before and after the publication of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien’s languages also underwent decades of elaboration, reconsideration, revision, and recapitulation throughout his lifetime. And also just as with the Legendarium, he never completed the languages; nor did he regard finality or fixedness in his languages as either necessary or even desirable goals. Nearly every occasion upon which Tolkien set to writing about or in one of his invented languages resulted in new invention, reconsideration, and change in the languages as they were then and previously conceived. Not even publication imposed fixedness on the languages, as shown by the changes Tolkien made to various Elvish texts in the second, revised edition of The Lord of the Rings, and by his own later reinterpretations of those texts in light of the conceptual alterations that arose in the languages after their publication.


The J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia also states that Tolkien continued to develop and change his Elvish lexicon in successive versions throughout his life in accordance with changes in his linquistic aesthetic. Source

A couple of examples are mentioned here: http://folk.uib.no/hnohf/qlreview.htm such as the word "Vala" initially meaning "a happy one" but then changed to "Power" or "God".

Regarding Lord of the Rings, the writing of it actually served as a catalyst for revisiting and making changes and additions to the Elvish lexicon, given all the wealth of detail and history concerning the Second and Third Ages that this book introduced.

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