The name _Asfaloth_ is one of the most important Elvish names to which
no generally agreed etymology has been found to this day. A query for
"Asfaloth" on Tolklang's search engine (searching together Tolklang,
Elfling and Lambengolmor's archives) produced a few attempts (beside of
a number of mere quotations, of course):
1) Tolklang, 25.67, 22 July 1997 : Helmut W. Pesch suggests that it
contains _loth_'flower', leaving an -asfa-_ element unexplained.
[This same connection was proposed in _An Introduction to Elvish_, some
20 years prior. CFH]
2) Elfling no. 1004, 22 June 1999 : David Salo answers Ryszard
Derdzinski and with hesitation suggests the same, with a possible
connection af _asfa-_ to the root SPAL 'foam'
3) Elfling no. 32486, 2 October 2005 : Michael John Keegan suggests a
derivation from the roots AS-AT 'dust', SPAN 'white' and LOT(H)
4) Elfling no. 32489, 3 October 2005 : in answer, Thomas Ferencz
suggests a link with the root PHALAS, SPALAS 'foam'.
4) Elfling no. 32509, 5 October 2005 : one Erna, in answer to the
previous posts, noted the similarity with the Goldogrin _Asfalon_
(PE11:20) [Note : matching Qenya _Arvalin].
None of these are really satisfying.
First, since this has a chance of being a compound like so many
Sindarin names, we should break it into its single elements: if so, do
we have _As-faloth_ or _Asfa-loth_? I would say the former, for the
cluster -sf- is remarkable and, I think, best explained as produced by
composition. If not, it would most probably have to come from earlier
*_sp_ (cf. the SPALAS hypothesis, yet our only good (Noldorin) example
of the evolution of medial *_sp_ rather points to its preservation: N
_osp_ / Q _usque_ (the *_sp_ being Telerin for Common Eldarin *_skw_
here). (The word _espalass_ from V:381 would have been good too, had
VT46:8 not revealed it is actually Ilkorin.)
Now, let us explain _As-faloth_ . I just found in TI:120 (this is in
fact what made me write this message) the name _Osforod_ translated
'the Northburg'? - a predecessor to LR's _Fornost Erain_, visibly. This
is transparently made of the well-known elements _ost_ 'city,
fortress'+ _forod_ 'north'? and reveals that in compounds -_st_ +
_f_- > -_sf_-.
So behind _Asfaloth_ we may have _*Ast-faloth_. We have a Noldorin word
_ast_ 'dust'? in V:349. The word *_faloth_, on the other hand, is not
attested independently; however, it could be regarded as a derivative
of the root PHAL / SPAL expressing the idea of 'foam' through a
sparsely attested suffix _-oth_, seen in _faroth_ *'hunter(s)' (_Silm._
App., V:387), _nogoth_ 'dwarf'? (_Silm._ App., WJ:338, 388, 408, 413)
and the place name _Lammoth 'Great echo'? (_Silm._ Index). This hardly
allows precise semantics. Still, the word *_faloth_ would be connected
to foam, many characteristics of which (whiteness, swiftness,
lightness) would be very fitting to be used metaphorically of
In this hypothesis, the meaning of _Asfaloth_ would approach something
like 'foam of dust'?, with a plausible phonology.
One can wonder, as several people did before (see above), if there
might not be a 'flower' element in this *_faloth_ , giving 'foam
flower' as a meaning; but if PHAL / SPAL and LOT(H) are combined, a
geminate L might have been expected, something like _falloth_? Unless
haplology occured at a very early stage, since we know that it could
happen (eg. *tuilelind� 'spring-singer' > swallow'? giving Q _tuilindo
_and N _tuilind, tuilin_ in V:395) ; for instance, a very old form like
_*spalalot(h)-_ might have become _*spalot(h)-_ (my reconstructions).
But this is very speculative.
Language has both strengthened imagination and been freed by it. Who
shall say whether the free adjective has created images bizarre and
beautiful, or the adjective been freed by strange and beautiful
pictures in the mind ?
- J.R.R. Tolkien, A Secret Vice