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Q. órë¹ n. “heart (inner mind); warning, caution, (pre)monition”

Q. órë¹, n. “heart (inner mind), *conscience; warning, caution, (pre)monition”

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). In a lengthy essay on the nature of this word (VT41/11-19), 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). 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”.

Possible Etymology: 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 had such a consonant medially, however, and it seems this name chosen simply because it had a medial r.

In the article mentioned above, Tolkien derived órë from the primitive roots √ƷOR or √HOR, along with these cognates: Sindarin gûr and Telerin órë (VT41/11). Unfortunately, this article also seems to be based on the transient idea that primitive initial h- (or ʒ-) vanished in Quenya while becoming g- in Sindarin. This is almost the opposite of its phonetic development in Tolkien’s other writings, where it became h- in Quenya and vanished in Sindarin.

To preserve both the Quenya and Sindarin forms, the only real option is to instead derive this word from the root ᴹ√GOR, which appeared in The Etymologies from the 1930s with the similar senses “violence, impetus, haste”, and included derivatives like N. gorf “impetus, vigor”. This is not consistent with Telerin órë, but I see no other way the etymology of this word can derived without drastic re-working of Elvish phonology.

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





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

Element In