The Ring of Words, By P Gilliver, J Marshall & E Weiner

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The Independent Culture

It is unlikely that a minor participant in the Oxford English Dictionary would merit a study of his entries – including wallop, walnut, walrus and others under "W" – if he had not gone on to write The Lord of the Rings.

Early pointers to this brooding epic may be evident in JRR Tolkien's definition of wan, which stresses its meaning in Old English: "dark, gloomy, black".

The second half of this engaging book looks at some resonant words – halfling (a northern word meaning "stripling"), ent (Old English for giant) – that Tolkien borrowed for his fiction.

The medieval word "marish", which Tolkien applied to "a low-lying marshy area in the Shire", survives in Marishes, North Yorkshire. Could Tolkien have encountered it during his spell in Leeds in the 1920s?