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Tolkien's word 'mathom' is one many of us can relate to


Jan 15 2017, 8:27pm

Post #1 of 6 (400 views)
Tolkien's word 'mathom' is one many of us can relate to Can't Post

The word 'mathom,' invented by J.R.R. Tolkien, was used by Hobbits to describe anything they 'had no use for but were unwilling to throw away.' If that sounds familiar as you look around at your collection of Tolkien books and other collectibles, it did to Andrew Whalen at iDigitalTimes too. In Andrew's opinion, the word mathom is so perfect for describing the clutter many of us love, it should become part of our regular vocabulary.

According to the article, "Hobbits love clutter. Many humans do too. The thought of purging a bookshelf, for example, might give you angry shivers. Everyone should have several different copies of the same book with different paperback covers!" Of course, to many Tolkien geeks that goes without saying. Further to making his case, Andrew really hits the nail on the head with his observation: "..it's just fun to say: mathom." We here at TORn wholeheartedly agree. Read the full article here.

(This post was edited by entmaiden on Jan 16 2017, 2:58am)

Tol Eressea

Jan 16 2017, 11:26am

Post #2 of 6 (378 views)
Mathom [In reply to] Can't Post

Tolkien didn't invent the word mathom - according to Gilliver et al, he revived it from Old English, where it meant 'something valuable, an item of treasure'.
(The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Old English Dictionary, p.161)

The authors go on to say the word "descends from a common Germanic word probably meaning 'something exchanged' or 'gift'..."


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Grey Havens

Jan 16 2017, 12:42pm

Post #3 of 6 (371 views)
Yep [In reply to] Can't Post

And (for the thread in general) the reason it's a modernized form of Old English is that it's part of the translation conceit, here illustrating a connection between the language of the Rohirrim and the Hobbit's Westron...

Language of the Rohirrim kastu Hobbit-word kast

translated by...

Old English māum Hobbit-word mathom


Jan 16 2017, 12:45pm

Post #4 of 6 (366 views)
Someone peeked into my home! [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm a keeper of mathoms, fersher... to include those multiple editions of the same title ;) Mathoms give me comfort... and limited clear seating and surfaces. There's no way I could part with any of my treasures! *spasm*

Gathering since 1971, mathoms are alive and well here!!! :D Getting them more organized is the real challenge.


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Jan 16 2017, 2:49pm

Post #5 of 6 (358 views)
'Mathom' is a Tolkien modernization, but there are some surprising words in English from the same ancient root word [In reply to] Can't Post

The Old English word mathm in itself did not survive into modern English, which is why Tolkien, as was his wont, delighted to bring it into the present for his book. But Old English is an Indo-European language, and the original root word for mathm is thought to be mei-t(h)- 'to commute, (ex)change'
From this root we have a number of modern English words that share the same idea of exchanging, losing, giving, etc.:

  • amiss adj/adv, wrong(ly), improper(ly); astray
  • commute vb, to exchange, give in exchange
  • mad adj, insane, mentally disordered
  • madden vb, to make/drive mad
  • mathom n, hobbit gift in Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings
  • Mathom-house prop.n weapon museum in Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings
  • mis- pfx, bad, wrong; badly, wrongly
  • mishap n.arch, misfortune, bad luck
  • miss vb, to fail to reach/touch/contact
  • mistake, mistook, mistaken vb.str, to choose wrongly

  • I'm no linguist - this material is lifted from this fun site at the U. of Texas, 'Indo-European Lexicon'. You'll have noticed that, according to the word-wonks in Austin, mathom is now considered to be a word in the modern English vocabulary!

    squire online:
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    Jan 16 2017, 8:41pm

    Post #6 of 6 (333 views)
    Oh my! That's me sorted for the next few hours. Cool link! [In reply to] Can't Post

    Peeked at the Oxford English Dictionary, and it actually has an entry. Besides the first entry for the obsolete Old English word:

    A precious thing, a treasure, a valuable gift. Obs.
    eOE Metres of Boethius (partly from transcript of damaged MS) xxi. 20 Gylden mam, sylofren sincstan, searogimma nan, middangeardes wela modes eagan fre ne onlyhta.
    OE Beowulf 41 Him on bearme lg madma mnigo.
    OE Old Eng. Hexateuch: Gen. (Corpus Cambr.) xlvii. 14 Iosep hfde gegaderod eal t feoh e hi ahton & gebroht on s kynges madmhuse.

    (even a reference to Middle Earth :) )

    it includes a second entry for modern use:

    A trinket, a piece of bric-a-brac.
    1954 J. R. R. Tolkien Fellowship of Ring 15 Anything that Hobbits had no immediate use for, but were unwilling to throw away, they called a mathom. Their dwellings were apt to become rather crowded with mathoms.
    1970 J. Blish Spock must Die! v. 37 I've got quite a collection of duplicate mathoms th' noo.


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