By comparison, Bárdarbunga dwarves the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, which shutdown most of Europe's airspace last year after its ash cloud drifted across the continent's skies.
A few years ago ("Dwarfs vs. dwarves", 1/3/2004), a small amount of research convinced me that the plural noun "dwarves" is mainly used for members of the fantasy race, partly but not exclusively due to the influence of J.R.R. Tolkien, with "dwarfs" being the standard plural form (it's the only one that the OED gives), and therefore the one used in standard English for real-world referents, whether human or astronomical.
It never even occurred to me that anyone would use "dwarves" as the third singular form of the verb dwarf "To cause to be or seem small". So much for confident assumptions.
To my further surprise, a search on The Telegraph's web site yields plenty of other examples of the same choice. Thus Julie Williams, "Funding for dementia research is dangerously low", 2/9/2011:
There has rarely been such a gulf between potential and the means to deliver as there is in UK dementia research today. We have made strides forward in the face of underinvestment, but the reality is that we continue to let down the 820,000 people in the UK today with dementia. With concern at an all time high, an economic burden that dwarves other diseases, and numbers with dementia spiralling towards a million, there really isn’t an argument against action now. Investment today will avert a crippling social and economic burden tomorrow.
Richard Gray, "World's largest genome belongs to slow-growing mountain flower", 12/12/2010:
The DNA contained within Paris japonica dwarves all other plant and animal genomes that have been analysed so far. It is 50 times longer than the human genome, even though our species is thought to be one of the most complex and advanced on the planet.
James Hall, "Reckitt Benckiser's Bart Becht takes home £90m", 4/7/2010:
The package dwarves the £36.8m that he earned last year from the Clearasil manufacturer, which made him the blue-chip index's best-paid chief executive in 2008.
James Quinn, "Credit Suisse's Brady Dougan tops investment bank pay charts", 3/25/2010:
The majority of heads of European banks have chosen not to take bonuses for 2009, while in the US, Mr Dougan's pay dwarves the $9m paid to Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sachs' chairman, for last year, and even Jamie Dimon, chairman of JP Morgan Chase, received a pay-out of $16m.
"Our UK and European business dwarves our Asian operations," Mr Moss said. "We operate in nine countries in Asia and over time we invested over £700m in Asia in terms of capital investment. If you were to cash out of those businesses then you'd get between £1.5bn and £2bn – so it's been a huge investment for us over five to six years.
And many others. Not only that, but there are plenty of real-word human and astronomical "dwarves" at the Telegraph as well. Thus "Iranian dwarf football team seek international competition", 2/11/2011
A football team with a difference; this squad in Iran is made up entirely of dwarves and their goal is to compete one day in international matches against similar teams.
"Kuchuluha", which means "the little people" in Farsi, came together 15 months ago to raise the profile of dwarves in Iranian society.
Simon Heffer, "It is the shameless MPs, not bankers, who should grovel", 1/24/2011:
In a week when yet another MP has admitted to being a criminal – and this is becoming a cultural problem – it is they, not bankers, who need to show some remorse. The public must regain confidence in the political class: but it won't happen while so many of its members behave like intellectual dwarves and moral lepers.
Brian Cox, "The seven wonders of the solar system", 3/2/2010:
The highly successful Cassini mission, a joint project between the US and EU, is returning ever more beautiful images from the orbit of Saturn, leading to a host of scientific discoveries. Nasa’s Horizons spacecraft is en route to the outer reaches of the solar system: it is already a billion miles from the Sun, and will wake from its state of hibernation when it arrives at Pluto in 2015, before continuing outwards into the mysterious Kuiper belt of frozen “ice dwarves” that stretches out towards interstellar space.
At this point, I thought to myelf that maybe The Telegraph has decided, as a matter of obedience to Simon Heffer's whim, to render both the nominal and verbal inflections of dwarf as "dwarves". And maybe this is correct — while a search for "dwarfs" on The Telegraph's web site" yields more than 2,000 hits, this seems to be because their search engine strips the final 's' and yields lots of articles containing "dwarf" and "dwarfed". After checking a dozen or so, I couldn't find any true instances of "dwarfs" — perhaps some reader will be more ingenious or more persistent.
But there are more surprises to come. In pursuit of the idea that this is an Telegraphic eccentricity, I took a look in the Guardian. And to my surprise, the very first hit for "dwarves" is a verbal one — Michael Aylwin, "Six Nations 2011: Victory over France could send Scotland on their way", 2/4/2011:
So Scotland will not be believing the hype too much. Still, they have picked a pack that dwarves that of their hosts. It outweighs them, too. According to the official statistics, which, in the case of France, should not be taken as gospel (Jérôme Thion, the reserve lock, is 13st, apparently), the Scotland pack weighs in at 142st to France's 133st 6lb – more than a stone a man heavier.
As far as I can tell, however, this remains a UK phenomenon — at least a search of the NYT index shows the expected limitation of "dwarves" to the realm of plural fantasy nouns, with plurals in the real world and third-singular verbs reliably using "dwarfs".
That's all the research that I have time for. But maybe one of our readers can enlighten us. Is it really true that "dwarves" is taking over England? If so, how and why?
[For those not already excessively familiar with it, here's J.R.R. Tolkien's account of why he decided to use "dwarves" in his fantasy novels, from Appendix F of LOTR:
It may be observed that in this book as in The Hobbit the form dwarves is used, although the dictionaries tell us that the plural of dwarf is dwarfs. It should be dwarrows (or dwerrows), if singular and plural had each gone its own way down the years, as have man and men, or goose and geese. But we no longer speak of a dwarf as often as we do of a man, or even of a goose, and memories have not been fresh enough among Men to keep hold of a special plural for a race now abandoned to folk-tales, where at least a shadow of truth is preserved, or at last to nonsense-stories in which they have become mere figures of fun. But in the Third Age something of their old character and power is still glimpsed, if already a little dimmed: these are the descendants of the Naugrim of the Elder Days, in whose hearts still burns the ancient fire of Aule the Smith, and the embers smoulder of their long grudge against the Elves; in in whose hands still lives the skill in works of stone that none have surpassed.
It is to mark this that I have ventured to use the form dwarves, and so remove them a little, perhaps, from the sillier tales of these latter days. Dwarrows would have been better; but I have used that form only in the name Dwarrowdelf, to represent the name of Moria in the Common Speech: Phurunargian. For that meant 'Dwarf-delving', and yet was already a word of antique form. But Moria is an Elvish name, and given without love…
Is there any reason to think that British journalists have been more influenced by Tolkien than American ones have?]
[Those who are interested in the general morphophonological setting of the voicing alternation in dwarf/dwarves might want to start with "The theology of phonology", 1/2/2004, the LL post that "Dwarfs vs. dwarves" was a footnote to.]
[And for those of you who were distracted by the contents of the Bárðarbunga volcano story, there don't seem to have been many further quakes in the Vatnajökull area over the past couple of days. But the linked page at the Icelandic Meteorological Office will let you keep an eye on this, as you pursue your researches into the dynamics of dwarf morphology.]