A Middle English Vocabulary

From Tolkien Gateway
A Middle English Vocabulary
Publication Information
authorJ.R.R. Tolkien
PublisherThe Clarendon Press, Oxford
Pages168 (unpaged)

A Middle English Vocabulary is a glossary of Middle English words complied by J.R.R. Tolkien, published in 1922.

It was intended to be published together with Kenneth Sisam's Fourteenth Century Verse & Prose in 1921, but it was not finished in time, so it was published separately in 1922, which became Tolkien's first published book.

The Vocabulary contains some 4,740 entries with nearly 6,800 definitions, running to 167 pages.[1]


A Middle English Vocabulary was published on May 11, 1922, to be a supplement to Sisam's Verse & Prose published the year before.[2] The separate binding is unpaged, and titled "Glossary", rather than "Vocabulary", on the title page.[3]


Sisam was Tolkien's old tutor of English Language and Literature, and also involved the Oxford English Dictionary, working on several words under the letter S.[4] After that section was published, Oxford University Press asked him to write a compilation of fourteenth century verse and prose. By 1919, it turned out Sisam did not have time to compile the glossary, so Tolkien was asked to do it. The project, originally planned to be little else than a glossary, quickly became a much larger work. Tolkien was given time off from his regular work on the OED, and even continued working on the glossary after his transfer to Leeds University.[5] The publication had been delayed due to private matters, and Tolkien was glad when it was finally finished. Sisam's book was, in the end, published without the glossary.[6] Later editions of Sisam's book did include Tolkien's glossary. [2]


Tolkien gained praise for his glossary, which was unlike most others. Whereas it was a trend of the days to suggest (often questionable) etymologies of rare and obscure words, Tolkien chose to devote his time to the different meanings of common words, such as to, he and habben ("to have"). His Vocabulary is filled with textual references,[3] and much of his findings elaborated on the OED, pre-dating words by sometimes a century. Some of these suggestions were taken into account in later editions of the OED.[5]


See also

External links


  1. Wayne G. Hammond, Christina Scull (2006), The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide
  2. 2.0 2.1 Douglas A. Anderson, Wayne G. Hammond (eds.), J.R.R. Tolkien: A Descriptive Bibliography, "Books by J. R. R. Tolkien", pages 1-3
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Margaret L. Lee, "Middle English", published in The Year's Work in English Studies, vol II (1922), pages 41-53, esp. 42-3
  4. Peter Gilliver, Jeremy Marshall, Edmund Weiner, The Ring of Words, page 3
  5. 5.0 5.1 Peter Gilliver, Jeremy Marshall, Edmund Weiner, The Ring of Words, page 32-3
  6. J.R.R. Tolkien, Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 6 (dated February 13, 1923)
  7. E. Kruisinga, "Reviews.", published in English Studies: a Journal of English Letters and Philology, vol. 8 (1926), pages 18-19