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Q. órë n. “heart (inner mind); warning, caution, (pre)monition” (Category: Mind)

Q. órë, n. “heart (inner mind), *conscience; warning, caution, (pre)monition” (Category: Mind)

The meaning of the Quenya word órë is quite subtle, and does not have a direct equivalent in English. In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien translated the word as “heart (inner mind)” (LotR/1123), but elsewhere he said that this was a poor translation of the word (VT41/11; NM/220). Tolkien wrote a lengthy essay on the nature of this word, first published in the year 2000 (VT41/11-19) and again in 2021 (NM/219-225). In this essay Tolkien described it as the source of wisdom and moral impulses that informed one’s judgement, so perhaps the closest English equivalent is “conscience”. This is still not quite right, however, since the órë could be the source of negative impulses as well, particularly among Men (VT41/13; NM/223). Furthermore, divine powers such as the Valar could sometimes (but not always) communicate subtly through one’s órë (VT41/15). Galadriel was described as having a particularly noble and generous órë (PM/337).

This word could also be used with the sense “warning, caution” (VT41/15) or even “premonition” (VT41/13). It seems that the órë and its urges was viewed as almost external to the mind itself, as indicated by the phrase órenya quetë nin “my heart tells me” = “I feel compelled to ...”, not unlike pop-cultural “shoulder angel and devil” whispering into your ear. Tolkien said that in Quenya this word was associated with the sense of √OR “rise” and its urges were seen as rising up within the spirit (VT41/13). Compare this to the words for ordinary feelings, such as fëafelmë “*(lit.) spirit-impulse”.

The word órë was also the name of tengwa #21 used for a weak and untrilled medial r (LotR/1123), many of which originated from primitive intervocalic [z] or [d]. There is no sign that órë ever had such a consonant medially, however, and it seems this name was chosen simply because it had a medial r.

Conceptual Development: There is no clear precursor to this word in Tolkien’s earlier writings, except perhaps ᴹQ. hóre “impulse” (Ety/KHOR).

References ✧ LotR/1123; PE22/155; PM/337; VT41/11-15

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Inflections

órenya 1st-sg-poss “my heart” ✧ VT41/11
ōrenya 1st-sg-poss “my heart” ✧ VT41/13
#óri stem   ✧ PE22/155

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