In The Two Towers movie, I've heard some witty remarks about how weird it is that one Uruk-hai says "meat is back on menu, boys!". The weird part is that some Uruk-hai would know about the word "menu", since they are unlikely to have seen any menus in their lives.

Well, let's try to come up with a general answer. How weird it is that the Uruk-hai can speak at all? Are they born with default skills and knowledge? We know they have to train, so they are not born perfect fighters. Do they go to Uruk-hai school and learn to speak?

How much time between a Uruk-hai's birth and it's (likely) death in battle? What is the Uruk-hai life expectancy?

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    Related (and possible dupe): scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/28173 - the movie stuff is movie stuff and has no basis in Tolkien's books; Orcs reproduce normally and grow normally.
    – user8719
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 21:16
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    There seem to be a lot of different questions contained in this post. It's more or less asking for a full description of Orcish culture!
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Mar 14, 2015 at 13:36
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    It is clear that the Uruk-hai have been around for a while if you read the books. At one point, one Uruk suggests to another that they run off together and find a nice spot to waylay/rob people, "like the old days". They have clearly known each other for years.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented May 23, 2015 at 7:00
  • +1 for "Uruk-hai" school.
    – Lesser son
    Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 2:44

2 Answers 2


tl;dr: Within the movie canon, the Uruk-hai are created magically, fully formed, and with the power of Common Speech already part of their minds. Presumably, this includes enough Common Speech to converse with other Uruk-hai, and Orcs, in a casual manner. That Common speech is translated into English on our behalf, and likely included idioms that were not translated directly.

First of all, it's important to note that the movies dramatically differ from the novels in this regard.

In The Books

In the novels, the Uruk-hai aren't speaking English, or even Common. When speaking to each other, or their superiors like Sauron, the Uruk-hai speak their own dialect of the Black Speech. Though Sauron intended for the Orcs to also use the Black Speech, they mostly did not; by the time of the novels/movies, they had settled on a corrupted form of Common that was used by the various Orc tribes, and which the Uruk-hai would have used to order them around. So, had the scene from the movie occurred as filmed in the novel, it's not clear what language the Uruk-hai would have used (he was speaking to his fellow Uruk-hai, but he was speaking at the Orcs.)

In order for us to understand anything written in the novels, it must be translated (possibly twice, as Bilbo/Frodo/Sam might have translated any Black Speech into Common Speech when for the benefit of readers of the Red Book itself.) So, if an Uruk-Hai were to say something idiomatic, like "back on the menu", that is merely a (Black Speech ->) Common Speech -> English translation of whatever the Uruk-hai was really saying, likely an idiom that meant the same thing to the Orcs. (Note that this is a hypothetical example: no Uruk-hai says anything like that in the books.)

Secondly, the way the movie portrays the creation of the Uruk-hai by Saruman is vastly different from the novels. In the original source, they are born and bred (by cross-breeding orcs and humans, IIRC). They grow and are trained and taught just like any other member of the Black Armies.

In The Movies

In the movies, the language issue is much clearer: everyone speaks Common all the time. We know this because other characters (like Merry/Pippin/Sam/Frodo) all understand their speech, when I seriously doubt any of them can speak Black Speech.

However, even in Common, the phrase "back on the menu" is a highly anachronistic idiom: the word "menu" in it's current sense didn't even enter the English language until the 1800s. Again, we have to assume that the Uruk-hai said something in idiomatic Common that was translated into idiomatic English as "back on the menu", and almost certainly did not translate literally.

Jackson also chose to shortcut the process is of their birth by showing Saruman essentially "growing" them somehow. And we can see the Uruk-hai emerging, fully-formed, and already able to understand Saruman's speech (also presumably Black Speech.)

So, whatever process Saruman uses to grow the Uruk-hai fully formed, it must also include imbuing them with the power to speak and understand language, or he wouldn't be able to give them orders or hear their status reports.

Age and Life Span

Neither the novels nor the movies give us any good indication of how long an Uruk-hai can be expected to live, nor how long they are "raised" before going into battle.

Obviously, in the movies, the age when they are considered battle-ready is a non-issue, as they are created fully-formed and battle ready immediately. However, in the books, they are bred naturally, so there must be some growing period before they are ready for fighting. Given their nature as, essentially, bred soldiers, I expect the age is rather young, probably as soon as they get past whatever passes for puberty and are physically capable of fighting.

Their lifespan is also never really discussed in the novels, but there is speculation that they are immortal, or at least very long-lived. Remember, Orcs are basically corrupted elves, and Uruk-hai are Orcs bred with humans, so there is a good chance they would have lifespans on the scale of elves and the Dúnedain.

The one concrete example we have to support this idea is Bolg, the Orc chieftain at the Battle of the Five Armies. He is the son of Azog, who (in the novels) was killed by Dain in 2799. At that point, Bolg was already old enough to take his father's place as chieftain, and he still held that position in 2941, almost 150 years later, with no signs of growing old or infirm.

Whether an Uruk would have a longer or shorter life span is never really discussed. On the one hand, with their human genetics mixed in, you'd expect a shorter one. On the other hand, they are supposed to be better, strong, faster Orcs, so you'd expect a longer one. Unfortunately, as far as I can find, there are no references in any of Tolkien's writing, including the Lost Tales and other supplemental stuff, that gives a good answer.

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    Per the books, as noted in a recent question, the Uruk-hai are somewhat intelligible when speaking between groups, as they have a common tongue similar if not the same as the Common Speech (from The Two Towers)
    – The Fallen
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 21:42
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    Link, although I could have misunderstood your language point. In any event, that point should probably br rephrased
    – The Fallen
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 21:46
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    In the linked answer, it's clear that Pipin is listening to Orcs, not Uruk-Hai. In that case, everyone would have to be speaking Common since their tribal languages aren't mutually intelligible.
    – KutuluMike
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 23:43
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    @user3453281 That's an unrelated question. Please ask a different question if you want to ask about Orcish life expectancy. Note it's frowned upon to ask multiple subquestions in a single question.
    – Andres F.
    Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 18:55
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    @user3453281 just for future reference" we generally don't like questions that ask multiple things for exactly this reason. Yours were all closely related enough that I could try an answer, but it was borderline.
    – KutuluMike
    Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 20:59

Maybe from the seemingly magical breeding we see in the movies we are misled. But the orcs are not bred from nothing, they cannot be, only Ilúvatar can create life from nothing:

To Melkor among the Ainur had been given the greatest gift of power and knowledge and he had a share in all the gifts of his brethren. He had gone often alone into the void places, seeking the imperishable flame for desire grew hot within him to bring into Being things of his own, and it seemed to him that Ilúvatar took no thought for the Void and he was impatient of its emptiness. Yet he found not the fire, for it is with Ilúvatar

Aulë too wanted to create things of his own, the dwarves, but they were lifeless, Ilúvatar gave them life after taking pity on him, but not before he said this to him:

Why dost thou attempt a thing which thou knowest is beyond thy power and thy authority?

So no magical breeding, only corruption of existing lifeforms.

And from The Silmarillion and other cannon we learn that orcs are really Elves or Men corrupted by black magic arts.

But of those unhappy ones who were ensnared by Melkor little is known of a certainty, for who of the living has descended into the pits of Utumno, or has explored the darkness of the counsels of Melkor? Yet this is held true by the wise of Eressëa that all those of the Quendi who came into the hands of Melkor ere Utumno was broken, were put there in prison and by slow arts of cruelty were corrupted and enslaved; and thus did Melkor breed the hideous race of the Orcs, in envy and mockery of the Elves, of whom they were afterwards the bitterest foes.

Therefore, it must be assumed that they are sometimes already full grown and learned when they are turned into orcs and that those habileties and knowledge from their past lives they at least keep a part. If I was Saruman or Sauron, I would choose particularly able subjects for those experiments. In the case of the Uruk-hais, particularly large men and strong warriors, maybe even some of Númenóreans blood from Gondor.

If it is so, we can expect the Uruk-hais to be long lived. And to be ready for battle at the same age a human or elf is. By this I mean in capacity. But even thought they wouldn't have morals about sending youths to battle, they would surely loose some effectiveness by sending immature or untrained warriors to battle.

This also would explain in part the knowledge of common speech by many orcs.

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