J.R.R. Tolkien worked on the Oxford English Dictionary.

  • J.R.R. Tolkien
J.R.R. Tolkien
Album/ Alamy Stock Photo

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien is the grandfather of modern fantasy; his books The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings formed the foundation of the genre. But before the renowned writer and philologist crafted the world of Middle-earth, he spent some time working on another vital text, the Oxford English Dictionary. After being discharged from the British army due to illness, he got a job on staff at the OED from 1919 to 1920. During that time, he worked on words near the beginning of the “w” section, from “waggle” to “warlock.” (Tolkien might’ve been assigned this section because many “w” words, including “walnut,” “walrus,” and “wampum,” have difficult etymologies.) The famous author once said that he “learned more in those two years than in any other equal period of my life.”

Although Tolkien’s tenure at the preeminent dictionary was a short one, his influence on linguistic tome continued for years to come. In 1969, when an OED editor reached out to Tolkien for comment on the addition of the word “hobbit” to the dictionary, the author responded with a definition twice as long as the original — the dictionary printed Tolkien’s version almost verbatim.  The OED eventually added many more words from Tolkien’s famous high fantasy series — including gems such as “mithril,” “Orcish,” and “troll.” 

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