- Aug 7, 2003In _The Lord of the Rings_, the "Huorns" are sentient, shadowy trees,
who lurk in the less savory corners of Fangorn Forest and, thanks to
an abiding hatred of Orcs coupled with the ability to move, play a
crucial role in the Rohirric campaign of the War of the Ring.
According to Merry's account of the fall of Isengard, the Ents called
these dangerous creatures "Huorns" because "they still have voices,
and can speak with the Ents" (LR:551) -- to which Merry adds, "I think
they are Ents that have become almost like trees, at least to look
"Huorns" is an anglicized plural of a Sindarin sing. _Huorn_, the
latter element of which is, clearly enough, S _orn_ 'tree' (L:426).
The name is listed in the Sindarin glossary of _An Introduction to
Elvish_ with the translation 'Voiced-tree', the initial element _hu-_
interpreted in a separate entry as an adjective, 'speaking, voiced'
(ItE:81). Curiously, the word _Huorn_ has been largely ignored
since the publication of ITE, despite the enormous amount of new
linguistic material that has appeared since 1978. _Huorn_ is not
listed at all in Didier Willis's Sindarin dictionary, and the name has
never been discussed on either Tolklang or Elfling. Bob Ireland's
online Tolkien Dictionary glosses _Huorns_ as 'vigorous trees', with
the initial element given as N _hûr_ 'vigour, fiery spirit'
(V:364). But not only is this interpretation semantically unlikely
-- since _Huorn_ is said to refer to the fact that "they still have
voices" -- it also fails on phonological grounds, since N/S _r_
does not disappear in intervocalic position in compounds, e.g.,
N _dûr_ 'dark, somber' > _durion, duredhel_ 'a Dark-elf' (V:354).
The only real mystery regarding _Huorn_ is the etymology of the
initial element _hu-_. Given Merry's explanation of the name in
LR:551 the general _meaning_ of this element is clear, and ItE's
gloss 'speaking, voiced' must hit close to the mark. But where
does this element come from, and what other words might it be
An early conceptual predecessor of the base underlying _hu-_
in _Huorn_ probably appears in QL, which gives the root HUHU
'whoop', which has the derivatives _hûta-_ 'whoop' (pa.t. _hue_)
and _hulále_ 'babble, chatter, conversation' (the second element
is from _lala-_ 'chatter, babble' < LALA). This root is equated in
QL with _hoho_, apparently a form of HO (also OHO) 'shout,
scream' (whence _holle_ 'a shout', _hô_ 'an owl', etc.) or OHO(2)
'cry', the latter root being the source of _ôma_ 'voice' and _ohta_
'shout'. All these early roots in QL share the sense of 'make a loud
If this early base HUHU survived into the later corpus, what form
might it take? A comparison of those roots in QL that have clear
equivalents in the Etymologies shows that roots with initial H- in
QL often have equivalents in KH- in the Etymologies; for example,
QL HATA 'hurl, fling' == Etym. KHAT- 'hurl'; QL HERE 'rule, have
power' == Etym. KHER- 'rule, govern, possess'; etc. It can also be
observed that some roots in QL containing intervocalic -H- have
equivalent bases in the Etymologies with final -3-; for example,
QL TAHA == Etym. TA3- 'high, lofty'; QL MAHA 'grasp' == Etym.
MA3- 'hand'; QL TEHE 'pull?' == Etym. TE3- (both have as a
derivative Q _tie_ 'line, direction, road').
This suggests that QL HUHU would have taken the form *KHU3-,
if it survived to the time of the Etymologies. *KHU3- does not
appear in the Etymologies, but it is very close in form to a base
that _does_ appear there: KHUG- 'bay, bark', referring to the loud
vocal sounds of dogs, whence Q _huan_ 'hound'; Q _huo_, N _hû_
'dog'; and N _Huan_, name of the great wolfhound of Valinor --
to whom it was granted, perhaps significantly to the current
discussion, the ability "to speak with words" three times before
his death (S:173; the text from _The Silmarillion_ cited here is taken
from the _Quenta Silmarillion_ of the late 1930s, contemporary
with the Etymologies). A pair of related bases *KHU3-/KHUG-
would parallel the 3/G variation also seen in such attested pairs
in the Etymologies as MA3- 'hand' / MAG- 'use, handle' and 3AR-
'have, hold' / GAR- 'hold, possess'.
Such a base *KHU3- 'whoop' (or perhaps, more generally, 'cry out,
shout') could have yielded a N form *_hû_ 'voice' (as OHO(2) 'cry'
in QL yielded Q _ôma_ 'voice') -- for the phonological development,
compare KU3- 'bow' > N _cû_ 'arch, crescent' (V:365). Thus,
*_hû_ 'voice' + _orn_ 'tree' > _Huorn_ *'voice-tree, tree with a
voice', with the same shortening of the vowel in the first element
seen in _Tuor_ (< _tûghor_ < _tû-gor_ 'strength-vigor'; cf. N
_tû_ 'muscle, sinew; vigour, physical strength', V:394 s.v. TUG-).
N *_hû_ 'voice' would, of course, run the risk of being confused
with homophonous N _hû_ 'dog'. This may have simply been an
instance where Tolkien found homophony acceptable; on the
other hand, the first appearance of the name _Huorn_ (see
VIII:56) certainly post-dates the primary composition of the
Etymologies (in 1937-38), and it may be that by the time the
name _Huorn_ was devised, Tolkien had rejected N _hû_ 'dog'.
This leaves us with a final question: why did Noldorin/Sindarin use
*_hû, hu-_ for 'voice' and not a derivative of the base OM-, whence
Q _óma_ 'voice' (V:379)? After all, _Huorn_ was preceded in earlier
drafts of the text by the Quenya forms _Ornómar_ (VIII:50) 'Talking
Trees' and _Ornómi_ 'trees with voices' (VIII:55), both of which
contain Q _óma_ 'voice'. Here phonology provides the probable
answer; for on analogy with the cognate pair Q _róma_ 'loud sound,
trumpet-sound' == N _rhû_ (in the Etym. s.v. ROM- 'loud noise, horn
blast'), it appears that Q _óma_ would have had the Noldorin
cognate *_û_. This would be identical to the (presumably frequent)
negative prefix _ú-_ (as in _ú-chebin_ *'I have not kept',
LR:1036), and so it was probably abandoned in favor of the
more distinctive *_hû_. The fact that the entry for OM- in the
Etymologies gives only Qenya derivatives (_óma_ 'voice' and
_óman_ 'vowel') further suggests that this base was not
used in Noldorin.
-- Patrick H. Wynne
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