Primitive elvish


root. cut, cleave, pass swiftly through; shave; skim (surface), slip along, glide quickly

Tolkien used √KIR and roots like it for “cut, cleave” for most of his life. The earliest of these are ᴱ√KIŘI [KIÐI] and ᴱ√KISI “cut, split” from the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s, the latter with an extended form ᴱ√KIRISI (QL/47). These forms apparently were all blended together in Qenya, but the most notable Gnomish derivatives from this period seem to all be based on ᴱ√K(I)RISI, such as G. criss “cleft, gash, gully” and G. crist “knife; slash, slice” (GL/27).

In The Etymologies of the 1930s the root became ᴹ√KIR “cleave” with extended forms ᴹ√KIRIK (unglossed but probably meaning “✱reap”) and ᴹ√KIRIS “cut”, the latter by way of combination with ᴹ√RIS “slash, rip” (Ety/KIR, KIRIK, KIRIS, RIS). One of the notable derivatives of this root was ᴹQ. kirya “ship” (Ety/KIR), a word that appeared as far back as the Early Qenya Grammar of the 1920s (PE14/46). Noldorin and Sindarin cognates of this word also appeared, varying from N. ceir “ship” to S. cair due to shifts in Tolkien’s conception of the phonetic development of diphthongs in the Sindarin branch of Elvish.

KIR “cut” appeared regularly in Tolkien’s later writings (PE17/73, 87; VT42/13; WJ/392), and the validity of the extended forms √KIRIK and √KIRIS is indicated by Tolkien’s continued use of words like Q. Valacirca “Sickle of the Valar” (S/48) and S. Orcrist “Orc-cleaver” (LotR/280). One later derivative of interest was S. certh “rune” (LotR/1123), which in the Quendi and Eldar essay of 1959-60 Tolkien said was derived from √KIR, the vowel change being the result of a-affection, and the Quenya form Q. certa being a loan from Sindarin (WJ/396). Rather cryptically in this essay Tolkien gave the primitive form as ✶kirtē “cutting”, so perhaps the Sindarin word was derivative from an adjectival variant.

Tolkien revisited the question of the origin of S. certh in notes from 1969:

> certar, LR III 395, could be emended in text to cirtar, and Certhas be held a late formation as it was. ... Phonology cannot be altered, since we have elenī > elin not ilin.

KIR. rather a mess here. LR has certar = cirth, and we have Angerthas, therefore √KER is indicated, & comparison with kirya is not in point of fact likely! Easy to say √KER = cut with tool/weapon, but √KIR = ? shave; skim (surface), slip along, glide quickly, and kirya is really an adj. = swift gliding. But what of Cirith. {Here we could say -itt.} e > i only before vanishing ī/j (PE22/150 and note #37).

Here Tolkien seems to be troubled again by the fact that Q. certa and S. certh are not direct cognates, and considered reorganizing the roots as √KER “cut” and √KIR “glide” (to allow the continued use of cirya “ship”), but then immediately recognized a problem with S. cirith “cleft, ravine” as in Cirith Ungol. Thus he seems to have abandoned this line of reasoning, leaving the 1959-60 notion that Q. certa is a loan from Sindarin as the most likely explanation. It is rather shocking to see how far he thought about going to “resolve” this problem, even considering a change in the basic rules of Sindarin phonology to allow i-affection of e > i in syllables other than those immediately before final i, which would have made keritt(e) > cirith possible.


  • kirtē “rune”
    • S. certh “rune” ✧ WJ/396
    • Q. certa “rune” ✧ WJ/396
  • kiryā “(small swift sailing) ship; swift (especially of things that pass easily through obstacles)”
    • Q. cirya “(sharp-prowed) ship; swift gliding, (sharp-prowed) ship, [ᴹQ.] boat; [Q.] swift gliding”
    • S. cair “ship”
  • Q. cir- “to cut, to cut, [ᴱQ.] cleave; *to sail”
  • ᴺQ. cirda “splinter, wood shaving”
  • Q. cirma “knife”
  • Q. cirya “(sharp-prowed) ship; swift gliding, (sharp-prowed) ship, [ᴹQ.] boat; [Q.] swift gliding” ✧ PE22/150; SA/kir
  • Q. cirya “cleft, pass”
  • S. certh “rune” ✧ PE22/150
    • Q. certa “rune” ✧ WJ/396
  • S. Ciril ✧ VT42/13

Element in

  • KIRIS “cleave, cleave, [ᴹ√] cut, [ᴱ√] split” ✧ SA/ris
  • Q. Calacirya “Pass of Light” ✧ PE17/073; SA/kir
  • ᴺQ. celvacir “butcher”
  • ᴺQ. cuimacir “butcher”
  • Q. cirincë “scarlet-plumed species of bird”
  • S. angerthas “runic alphabetic, (lit.) long rune-rows” ✧ SA/kir
  • S. Círdan “Shipwright” ✧ SA/kir
  • S. cirith “cleft, ravine, defile, cleft, ravine, defile, [N.] pass” ✧ PE17/087; PE22/150; SA/kir
  • N. cirith “cleft, pass”
  • S. criss “cleft, cleft, [N.] cut, slash, [G.] gash; [N.] pass, [G.] gully, ravine” ✧ PE17/087


  • KER ✧ PE22/150
  • kir- ✧ SA/kir; SA/ris
  • Kiri ✧ WJ/392
Primitive elvish [PE17/073; PE17/087; PE17/157; PE22/150; SA/kir; SA/ris; VT42/13; WJ/392] Group: Eldamo. Published by


root. cleave, cleave, [ᴹ√] cut, [ᴱ√] split


  • kirissi “cleft”
    • S. criss “cleft, cleft, [N.] cut, slash, [G.] gash; [N.] pass, [G.] gully, ravine” ✧ PE21/80
  • ᴺS. crisg “sharp [edged]”
  • S. criss “cleft, cleft, [N.] cut, slash, [G.] gash; [N.] pass, [G.] gully, ravine”
  • S. crist “cleaver, cleaver; [N.] sword; [G.] knife; slash, slice”
  • ᴺS. crista- “to slash, cut, slice”

Element in


  • kris- ✧ SA/ris
Primitive elvish [SA/ris] Group: Eldamo. Published by