Tuesday, 18 November 2008

orc and arcane

Tolkien's orc is a revival of the Old English orc "demon" or "the infernal regions", found in the compound orcnēas "evil walking spirits" as in Beowulf 112:

Þanon untȳdras ealle onwōcon,
eotenas ond ylfe ond orcnēas,
swylce gigantas, þā wið Gode wunnon

there sprang
ogres and elves and evil phantoms
and the giants too who strove with God

It was probably borrowed from Latin Orcus "the lower world, the abode of the dead". Ogre is possibly from this word as well, thru French. Also Italian orco "demon, monster", Spanish huerco "devil", Sardinian orcu "demon", and early modern Dutch orck "unruly person".

The Proto-Indo-European root is *areq- "to guard, lock". I don't know what that q is supposed to be. This became another Latin word, arcānus "secret" and then arcane.


Jonathon said...

I'd guess that the q in that root is an outdated way of writing kw. I think I've seen it before in the OED.

goofy said...

OK, thanks. I've found the root in The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots - they cite it as *h₂erk-.