Primitive elvish


root. cruel; stink

Tolkien conceived of a number of roots for the names of Sauron, both Q. Sauron itself as well as S. Thû and S. Gorthaur, and the roots were sometimes related and sometimes not, but often had to do with stench or other disgusting things. In The Etymologies of the 1930s Tolkien gave the unglossed root ᴹ√THUS derivatives like ᴹQ. saura “foul, evil-smelling, putrid”, N. thaw “corrupt, rotten”, and N. thost “smell”, also serving as the basis for both ᴹQ. Sauron and N. Thû (Ety/THUS; EtyAC/THUS).

In 1957 Tolkien considered some less negatitive connations for √THUS and its derivatives. In various notes exploring the derivation of words for “spirit”, Tolkien considered using S. Thû as a name for Manwë (PE17/124; NM/236), and in other notes on this topic √THUS was given as variant of √THŪ “blow, cause an air movement” with derivatives like Q. sussë/S. thos “puff (of air)” and the verbs Q. susta-/surya- “blow”, transitive and intrasative respectively (NM/237, 239).

In Definitive Linguistic Notes (DLN) from 1959, however, the root √THUS was given the gloss “evil mist, fog, darkness”, still the basis for S. Thû as well as S. Gorthaur “Mist of Fear”, but in this note Q. Sauron was based on √SAW “disgusting, foul, vile” (PE17/183); Tolkien then rejected this derivation of Sauron, saying instead it came from √THAW “cruel”, as did Gorthaur (PE17/184).

The root √SAWA also appeared in the first page of DLN with the gloss “bad, unhealthy, ill, wretched”, but that page was rejected (PE17/172). √SAW appeared again in notes from March of 1967, but there {√SAW >>} √ÞAW “stink”, again as the basis for Q. Sauron, and it apparently had an even earlier form √ÞOWO that was the basis for S. Thû (PE17/68). The primitive form ✶thowō was also mentioned in earlier notes as the basis for S. Thû on a page accompanying Notes on Galdriel’s Song (NGS) written between the 1st and 2nd edition of The Lord of the Rings (PE17/99).

Probably the best known of the etymologies for the name of Sauron appeared in a draft letter to Mr. Rang from August of 1967, where Tolkien gave √THAW > ✶θaurā “detestable” (Let/380), which is essentially the etymology Christopher Tolkien gave in The Silmarillion appendix, where both Q. Sauron and S. Gorthaur were connected to Sindarin element S. thaur “abominable, horrible” (SA/thaur).

To summarize, the main conceptuals shifts seem to be:

  • 1930s ᴹ√THUS “✱smell, stench” > both ᴹQ. Sauron and N. Thû (Ety/THUS; EtyAC/THUS).

  • 1957 √THUS “blow, cause an air movement” > S. Thû as a name for Manwë rather than Sauron (NM/236-237).

  • 1959 √THUS “evil mist, fog, darkness” > S. Thû/S. Gorthaur “Mist of Fear” but √SAW “disgusting, foul, vile” > Q. Sauron (PE17/183).

  • 1959 [revised] √THAW “cruel” > both Q. Sauron and S. Gorthaur (PE17/184).

  • March 1967 {√SAW >>} √ÞAW “stink” > Q. Sauron but more ancient √ÞOWO (same meaning) > S. Thû (PE17/68).

  • August 1967 √THAW > ✶θaurā “detestable” > Q. Sauron (Let/380).

The last of these is the best match for the base forms used by Christopher Tolkien in the published version of The Silmarillion, though the exact source of Christopher’s etymology remains unpublished.

Neo-Eldarin: The result of all this vacillation is a confusing muddle that makes it hard to know which roots to use in Neo-Eldarin. For √THAW I would stick with the sense “cruel” but I would assume some blending with √SAW “disgusting, foul, vile” to preserve words from this root. I would assume √THUS has a sense similar to that of The Etymologies and the 1957 notes on spirit (“blow, ✱smell”) with more neutral meanings in Sindarin, but more unpleasant meanings in Quenya due to the influence of √SAW. Retaining √THAW “cruel”, √SAW “foul” and √THUS “blow, ✱smell” would let us keep most of the interesting derivatives of these roots.


  • THOW “stink” ✧ PE17/068


  • thaurā “detestable, abominable, horrible” ✧ Let/380
    • S. thaur “abominable, horrible” ✧ SA/thaur
  • Q. saura “cruel, evil, vile; stinking, foul; bad, unhealthy, ill, wretched, stinking, foul, [ᴹQ.] evil-smelling, putrid; [Q.] cruel, evil, vile; [Q.] bad, unhealthy, ill, wretched” ✧ PE17/068; PE17/184
  • ᴺQ. sávë “stench, stink, reek, foul odor”


  • ÞAW ✧ PE17/068; PE17/188
Primitive elvish [Let/380; PE17/068; PE17/184; PE17/188] Group: Eldamo. Published by


root. *melt, thaw


  • ᴺQ. tiqu- “to melt, thaw”

Element in