At the edge of Fangorn, Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas noticed a man robed in white. After seeing him, Aragorn leapt up and said:

Well, father, what can we do for you? Come be warm, if you are cold!

Why did Aragorn call the stranger father? Did he think he was his father? Or was it something else?

  • 10
    This question, I think, stems from either non-native English speakers (which is of course perfectly fine) or people who are not familiar with this convention in English literature. I was exposed to it by reading literature that was written before I was born, so it's understandable that others don't know it.
    – methuseus
    Dec 9, 2018 at 6:17
  • 9
    If you find the usage of a word strange, you should probably start by looking it up in the dictionary. Given that the accepted answer basically just quotes a dictionary, one might be inclined to say this is an English language question more than a question that has anything to do with Science Fiction and Fantasy.
    – NotThatGuy
    Dec 9, 2018 at 21:05
  • @NotThatGuy Thanks. I will remember it.
    – Fiddler
    Dec 10, 2018 at 5:01

1 Answer 1


Definition 4 of “father” from Collins English Dictionary:

A respectful term of address for an old man.

That is the sense in which Aragorn uses the word, he doesn’t think that the old man is actually his father Arathorn, who had died over eighty years earlier.

  • 74
    The same as an old man might call a much younger man "son", without implying any actual relationship.
    – DevSolar
    Dec 7, 2018 at 10:23
  • 56
    Given OP is from Bangladesh, this would be similar to calling older people "aunty" or "uncle", even when they're not your aunt or uncle.
    – J...
    Dec 7, 2018 at 13:09
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    @Taladris It’s somewhat archaic, and wouldn’t generally be used in everyday speech. Tolkien learned his English over a century ago, after all.
    – Mike Scott
    Dec 9, 2018 at 7:08
  • 8
    @Mike Not only was Tolkien born much earlier than we were, but he was writing a story set not in the country and time he lived in, but a somewhat similar, fictional place with older/more formal forms of address and expression as a matter of style to evoke a particular feel (it wasn't 20th century England, but something that represented somewhat of a mythological parallel, much earlier). Some of what he was writing would be (deliberately) archaic for him, let alone us.
    – Glen_b
    Dec 10, 2018 at 9:17
  • 5
    To give some context to the assertion that this use is archaic: there's a scene in Groundhog Day where Phil addresses an old homeless man as "father" (video link). He calls him "pops" earlier. Phil's not the kind of character who would reference Tolkien either. :-) This use of the term would be considered informal and a little bit condescending, so not recommended for use on your favorite senior citizen unless you're already somewhat familiar with them. Dec 10, 2018 at 10:29

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