√PHIR root. “exhale, expire, breathe out”
This root first appeared in The Etymologies of the 1930s as ᴹ√PHIR “die of natural causes” with derivatives like ᴹQ. fire/N. feir “mortal man” and ᴹQ. firin/N. fern “dead” (Ety/PHIR; EtyAC/ÑGUR). In one place it had a rejected variant ᴹ√SPIR (EtyAC/ÑGUR). In later notes, Tolkien explained that √PHIRI meant “exhale, expire, breathe out” and was initially unconnected to death (WJ/387). In this scenario, √PHIRI came to be associated with death through the passing of Q. Míriel, the most notable Elf to die of non-violent causes who “overcome by a great sorrow ... gave up her life in the body and went to the keeping of Mandos, [with] a deep sigh of weariness” (WJ/387). In this event, she was given the new name Q. Fíriel “She that died” but also meaning “She that sighed” (MR/250). From there it came to be used of the natural death of mortal men, something which the Elves had little experience with themselves.
Reference ✧ WJ/387 ✧ PHIRI “exhale, expire, breathe out”
ᴹ√PHIR root. “die of natural causes”
References ✧ Ety/KHIL, PHIR; EtyAC/ÑGUR
ᴱ√ǶEHE root. “breath; die, expire”
A root in the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s glossed “breath; die, expire” and with the derivative ᴱQ. fé “last hour, death” (QL/41). It also has some derivatives in the contemporaneous Gnomish Lexicon such as G. fest “breath, breathing” and G. festa- “breath[e]” (GL/35). There are no obvious signs of this root in Tolkien’s later writing, though the connection between “last breath” and “death” does reappear in the root √PHIR (WJ/387).
References ✧ QL/41, 100