"Dwarves" taking over England?

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Following up on his tip about  "bomb-diffusing" at the Telegraph, Robert Ayers sent me a link to an unexpected verbal inflection from the same source ("Icelandic volcano 'set to erupt''", 2/8/2011):

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.

"Viva Aviva – Chief executive Andrew Moss sees a bright future for the insurer", 10/24/2009

"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.]



53 Comments

  1. KCinDC said,

    February 11, 2011 @ 1:32 pm

    There seem to be other uses of a verb "dwarve", connected to World of Warcraft and to growing plants, but googling for "dwarve", "dwarved", and "dwarving" does return some sentences that would use forms of "dwarf" in standard English.

    [(myl) There are many of these Out There, and even some in published books (see also here). But it's another thing entirely to find a change like this becoming House Style at a major newspaper.]

  2. Josh said,

    February 11, 2011 @ 1:45 pm

    It would seem to me this spelling change would have to follow from a pronunciation change. Is there any evidence that voiced 'v' has taken hold in spoken form (say, from a BBC news broadcast)? I'm not sure how one would even begin to search for that.

    [(myl) An interesting question. I'm assuming that anyone who believes in writing "dwarves" also believes in a pronunciation ending [vz] rather than [fs]. But as discussed in the cited 2004 LL post, spelling and sound can sometimes diverge in such cases. Quoted from a note from Bill Poser:

    For me the plural of is [dworvz], no two ways about it. I consider [dworfs] outright error, even in other people's speech. (Of course I acknowledge that there may be other dialects. What I mean is that I will not accept [dworfs] as a possible variant within what I consider my own dialect of English. This contrasts with, e.g., [rufs]. I myself have both [rufs] and [rUvz] and somebody ceteris paribus consider someone who has either one to be a speaker of my own dialect.)

    When I read your most recent post, at first I didn't get it. The reason is that I read as [dworvz]. For me, the spelling doesn't necessarily indicate that the word is to be pronounced [fs]. In some cases, I consider both spellings acceptable, e.g. or . In others, I use only one spelling but still have both pronounciations. I write only , *, but still say both [rufs] and [rUvz].

    As I noted at the time, I agree with his intuitions about "roofs", for which the standard spelling is clearly "roofs", although I can pronounce it with either a voiced or voiceless ending. ]

  3. Michael Tobis said,

    February 11, 2011 @ 1:53 pm

    I suspect spell checking software.

    [(myl) I don't. Can you cite a spell-checker that enforces "dwarves"? That would be a surprise, since all the dictionaries that I know either give only "dwarfs" or give "dwarfs" as the first option.]

  4. Rob said,

    February 11, 2011 @ 1:55 pm

    In fact you can use Google to search the Telegraph website and find plenty of instances of "dwarfs" too, including both verbal and nominal uses. It seems that they are just inconsistent.

    [(myl) Thanks! For some reason, when I tried this it didn't work, and I assumed it was because the Telegraph asked for its archives not to be indexed. I must have typed something wrong.]

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    February 11, 2011 @ 2:31 pm

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  6. Chris Lintott said,

    February 11, 2011 @ 2:32 pm

    I should rescue Brian Cox from this list of sinners. Even British astronomical journals have long insisted (I presume in the cause of trans-atlantic communication) that the plural of dwarf (as in 'dwarf star') is 'dwarves' and not 'dwarfs'.

    [(myl) Interesting. That's not the impression that I got in 2004, searching various sources for e.g. "white dwarfs" vs. "white dwarves". Now Google Scholar gives 37,900 hits for "white dwarfs" and only 367 for "white dwarves".

    [Update — this would be interesting if it were true, but it seems to be 96% false. There are 48 examples of "dwarfs" in the Journal of the British Astronomical Association, and only two examples of "dwarves". Did you state the preference backwards? Or if you really meant that British astronomers prefer "dwarves", can you give us some evidence?]

    Anyhow, let me clarify (if it wasn't obvious) that I don't consider users of "dwarves" forms to be sinners. For me, this is an interesting case of a non-standard morpho-orthographic form, which as of about 1950 existed only as a rare spelling variant, turning into a quasi-standard usage, apparently through the influence of Disney and Tolkien. And in this particular case, it's curious to see the Telegraph apparently leading the way, given the rather cranky "kids today" linguistic ideology espoused on its behalf by Simon Heffer.]

  7. empty said,

    February 11, 2011 @ 2:40 pm

    Still no word "dwarving", though?

    [(myl) Well, maybe a little.]

  8. Rubrick said,

    February 11, 2011 @ 2:42 pm

    The power of priming: Thanks to the dwarven context, I initially read "World's largest genome belongs to slow-growing mountain flower" as "World's largest gnome belongs to slow-growing mountain flower"

    …"dwarfs" being the standard plural form (it's the only one that the OED gives)…

    I hold a minor grudge regarding dictionaries' stubborn refusal to document usages that come from fantasy literature, however common and well-attested. Darn near everyone in the English-speaking world knows what an orc is these days, but it's still absent from MW's 11th Collegiate. (I don't have OED access.) But "kobold" makes the cut, because it's from pre-Tolkein German folklore, and therefore — more real? This sort of cutoff seems quite arbitrary to me.

    (Pardon the tangent.)

  9. Bryn LaFollette said,

    February 11, 2011 @ 3:03 pm

    My intuition is similar to Bill's, I think. For as long as I can remember the plural of the noun 'dwarf' is 'dwarves', and a plural 'dwarfs' sounds artificial. This has perhaps been reinforced by alternations in non-fantasy things like 'wharf'/'wharves', but I admit there's been a lifelong influence of Tolkien and other fantasy fiction in my life.

    However, this is not due to any phonological shift in my dialect that I am aware of, and in fact the part of the post that really felt wrong above was the 3rd person singular inflection of the verb 'dwarf' as 'dwarves'. For me, the verb inflection should definitely be 'dwarfs', and distinctively contrasts with my nominal pattern in this way. "Bárdarbunga dwarves the Eyjafjallajökull volcano," sounds plain wrong to my ear, and I'd want to correct it to "Bárdarbunga dwarfs the Eyjafjallajökull volcano."

    Some notes: The spellchecker for Chrome (which is the browser I'm using to write this) doesn't seem to like 'dwarves.' Also, I'm a native speaker of Southern Californian English (non-San Fernando Valley, dialect tho), and a (mostly) lifelong resident of California (with admittedly some interfering influence from Northern Californian dialects). So, I can't really speak at all to trends in the Brittish Isles.

  10. Chandra said,

    February 11, 2011 @ 3:11 pm

    Perhaps, given the context, they should have said that Bárdarbunga elves Eyjafjallajökull…

  11. Russell Cross said,

    February 11, 2011 @ 3:33 pm

    I began by wondering if it were just the difference between noun and verb usage, with the noun -> "-ves" (as with "hooves" on the end of horses' legs) and the verb -> "-s." Then a quick look at COCA had "hoofs" and "hooves" as plural, although the "hooves" popped up almost 10x more than the "hoofs." But then "rooves" as a plural was dwarfed by "roofs" – actually only one "rooves." At that point, I decided that my need for lunch outweighed my need for closure so I'm hoofing it to Subway rather than look for "proofs" or something that "proves" there's a noun/verb thing going on here.

    [(myl) No new research is needed to delineate the general morpho-phonological background of voicing alternations in final fricatives in English, either the case of plurals of nouns or inflected forms of verbs. The deep history and the general synchronic pattern are very well established and understood. The only question at issue is what's now going on at the Telegraph with dwarf, where already in 1862 Ernest Adams explained in a text for "young pupils" that with respect to plurals


    It never occurred to him that dwarf would participate in the noun/verb relationship

    nor that there might be a pattern where verbs in -f had forms in -ves, -ved, –ving, because in the version of standard English he knew, those things didn't happen.
    These relationships are all part of the background of whatever's going on. but they don't (as far as I can see) explain it.]

  12. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    February 11, 2011 @ 3:51 pm

    Russell Cross: It's clearly quite common for a noun to go from -f in the singular to -ves in the plural, e.g. leaves, thieves, though not universal, e.g. roofs (mostly). I don't think I have ever seen a verb go from -f in the basic form to -ves in the third person singular. Of course, some verbs from nouns with -f change it to -ve anyway.

    Are the people using 'dwarves' as a third person singular treating it as a form of the verb 'dwarf', or do they think that the verb is 'dwarve'?

  13. richard howland-bolton said,

    February 11, 2011 @ 4:05 pm

    @ Rubrick

    OED has:
    A devouring monster; an ogre; spec. a member of an imaginary race of subhuman creatures, small and human-like in form but having ogreish features and warlike, malevolent characters.Popularized by the novels of J. R. R. Tolkien (1892–1973) and now used chiefly in fantasy novels and games.
    1605 J. Sylvester tr. G. de S. Du Bartas Deuine Weekes & Wks. ii. i. 337 Insatiate Orque, that euen at one repast, Almost all creatures in the World would waste.
    1656 S. Holland Don Zara i. i. 6 Who at one stroke didst pare away three heads from off the shoulders of an Orke, begotten by an Incubus.
    1854 Putnam's Monthly Mag. Oct. 380/1 The elves and the nickers, the orcs and the giants.
    1865 C. Kingsley Hereward I. i. 71 But beyond, things unspeakable—dragons, giants, orcs, [etc.].
    1937 J. R. R. Tolkien Hobbit vii. 149 The slopes of the Grey Mountains‥are simply stiff with goblins, hobgoblins, and orcs of the worst description.
    1974 R. Helms Tolkien's World iv. 80 The Orcs are covered with hair, in part to represent their sexual voraciousness and animality.
    1989 GM Nov. 56 (advt.) Choose to play an Elf, Dwarf, Orc or Human.
    1992 City Limits 2–9 July 22/4 The heroes are the orcs, usually (and quite rightly) considered to be the scum of fantasy society.

    But then Orc is from pre-Tolkien folklore too.

  14. HP said,

    February 11, 2011 @ 4:18 pm

    Even when the standard plural noun form uses -ves, I'm sure I always form corresponding verbs with -fs.

    "Bill mends the fence and roofs the shed."

    "The vaudevillian tells jokes, sings, and also hoofs a bit."

    "Bossie goes off her feed every time she calfs."

    Of course, none of these are words I use habitually.

    I do sometimes have to reminds myself to use the plural noun "dwarfs" outside fantasy contexts, but "dwarves" as a verb sounds all kinds of wrong to me.

    Ohio Valley, USA.

  15. Pflaumbaum said,

    February 11, 2011 @ 4:21 pm

    One thing that's notable about the nouns in the original post is that aside from dwarf, a fair few of the -f nouns, even ones with plurals in -fs, have a corresponding verb in -ve:


    calve; halve; shelve; thieve; believe; relieve; prove
    (though also 'proof' in other senses). Leave obviously relates to leave the noun, not leaf.

    Those forming verbs in a single -f, that I'm aware of, are:


    hoof; roof; beef; turf; knife; wolf; goof; leaf; sheaf; reef; proof
    (but also prove) and chief (not sure you have it in the US but in BrE slang chief (out) means to disrespect.) Loaf doesn't count as apparently it's a back formation from loafer.

    MYL says he has a -ves version for the first four of these in their noun forms – I wonder if he has them for the verbs? (I only have a -ves alternative for hoof and roof as nouns, and as a verb only for roof).

    Anyway, dwarves as a verb surely can't be influenced by these others, since then you'd expect dwarve in the plain form, which seems to be barely attested.

    So people must have dwarf as the plain form and dwarves as the 3 sing. Does that put dwarf in a presumably very small group of verbs that are becoming less morphologically regular?

  16. Brian said,

    February 11, 2011 @ 4:27 pm

    It's funny — when I first read the article, I thought :"Oh, nobody says dwarfs as the plural of dwarf. That's silly." Ten seconds later I see the response about "white dwarfs". How wrong ones intuition can be!

  17. Melissa said,

    February 11, 2011 @ 4:33 pm

    There are some examples online of "knives" used as a 3rd pers. sing. verb. If you google "he knives," most hits are typos for "the knives," but a few are clearly using it as a verb:
    "He knives the soldier in the back during the couple's evening garden tete-a-tete."
    "If he knives you then you become a zombie with him."
    "But I HATE the lunge that a player makes when he knives."

  18. rootlesscosmo said,

    February 11, 2011 @ 4:42 pm

    from "Into the Woods" by Stephen Sondheim:

    CINDERELLA'S PRINCE
    If it were not for the thicket-

    RAPUNZEL'S PRINCE
    A thicket's no trick.
    Is it thick?

    CINDERELLA'S PRINCE
    It's the thickest.

    RAPUNZEL'S PRINCE
    The quickest
    Is pick it
    Apart with a stick-

    CINDERELLA'S PRINCE
    yes, but even one prick-
    It's my thing about blood.

    RAPUNZEL'S PRINCE
    Well, it's sick!

    CINDERELLA'S PRINCE
    It's no sicker
    Than your thing with dwarves.

    RAPUNZEL'S PRINCE
    Dwarfs!

    CINDERELLA'S PRINCE
    Dwarfs…

    RAPUNZEL'S PRINCE
    Dwarfs are every upsetting.

  19. rootlesscosmo said,

    February 11, 2011 @ 4:43 pm

    Sorry, "very upsetting."

  20. YM said,

    February 11, 2011 @ 4:52 pm

    As the noun goes, I only see "dwarves" referring to the mythical creatures. In the US at least, "dwarfs" is used for real live short people, or in astronomy.

  21. Charles Gaulke said,

    February 11, 2011 @ 4:54 pm

    What I'm wondering is whether we have any evidence that this is reflected in speech; a transcribed quote may only indicate that people are spelling (the verb) "dwarfs" as "dwarves," but they may be pronouncing it, even silently in their heads while reading over their own writing, the old way. Can we find a recording of anyone actually saying something "dwarves" something else?

  22. Richard Howland-Bolton said,

    February 11, 2011 @ 5:11 pm

    The ArthurNet Mailing List has a topic at the moment "Dwarves & Giants in Chretien"

  23. Oop said,

    February 11, 2011 @ 5:39 pm

    In this particular context, "myelf" as written above is a quite suitable typo.

  24. Troy S. said,

    February 11, 2011 @ 5:46 pm

    I note that even the past participle "dwarved" is Out There.

  25. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    February 11, 2011 @ 6:07 pm

    YM: I agree, and I'm British. 'Dwarfs' is also used for fantasy creatures in some traditions, notably Disney's. But if people's first assocation for 'dwarf' is the fantasy creature, and they learn of that through Tolkien or works influenced by him, it's not too surprising if 'dwarves' is gradually taking over.

    Pfaumblaum: Does that put dwarf in a presumably very small group of verbs that are becoming less morphologically regular?

    Well, we've seen that happening with past forms, 'snuck' being the most notable recent example. I can't think of any closer parallel, though.

  26. Ken Brown said,

    February 11, 2011 @ 7:14 pm

    @Andrew (nts1) "shite"

  27. Tim Leonard said,

    February 11, 2011 @ 7:45 pm

    Google Ngram Viewer shows "dwarves" being negligible with respect to "dwarfs" until 1960, then a clear trend of "dwarves" increasing at "dwarfs"'s expense to reach a current rate of 1 in 6.

    (Never before have I felt the need for the genitive of a quoted string. And one ending in "s," too. Never again will be soon enough for me.)

    The pair "dwarves the" doesn't appear at all (in whatever corpus the Ngram Viewer covers) until 1973, and even after that it's at most a few instances per year.

  28. H. E. Baber said,

    February 11, 2011 @ 7:55 pm

    Roof–rooves. If I prounounced it "ruf" (which I don't) I suppose I'd say "rufs"

    I'm just an amateur here but my intuition is that the 3rd person singular verb is "dwarfs" but the plural noun is "dwarves." I'm a native speaker of mid-Atlantic general American.

  29. Cialan said,

    February 11, 2011 @ 9:28 pm

    If my memory serves, Tolkien also wrote in the appendix to LOTR that word-final "F" was supposed to be pronounced as "V," as in "Nindalf" (pronounced as if it were "Nindalv"). Nobody seems to have followed this over the years in their pronunciation of "Gandalf," and I assume it was only intended for proper names, not extending to the names of races (e.g. "dwarf"). Perhaps it sheds some light on why he preferred "dwarves" to "dwarfs," though. Now, we just need to see if Tolkien ever used the word as a verb…

  30. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 11, 2011 @ 10:16 pm

    In connection with the thread on flat A's in Chicago, note Ernest Adams's "flat th", where "flat", according to dictionaries, means "voiced, lenis".

    Note also that there's no such thing as excessive familiarity with The Lord of the Rings.

  31. Matt McIrvin said,

    February 11, 2011 @ 11:21 pm

    I remember consciously deciding to start using "dwarfs" instead of "dwarves" because I read that note of Tolkien's and concluded from it that outside of fantasy literature "dwarves" was a nonstandard form, even though I'd been using it much of the time. (And then I noticed that Disney had actually used "dwarfs".)

    I am probably not typical in this.

  32. John Walden said,

    February 12, 2011 @ 4:03 am

    There are some parallels in the often pejorative "poof", meaning a flamboyant gay man, common from around 1950 according to "Slang and Unconventional English". Variations include pouff, poove, poofter, pooftah and puff. Non-standard English is interesting, I suppose because nobody is laying down the law, creativity is rife.

    The plural of "poof" is both "poofs" and "pooves" and the noun either "poofery" or "poovery". Both sound equally acceptable to my mind's ear. The pronunciations of f and v are different and the 'oo' can be long or short in either, perhaps regionally.

    I can't see much sign of a verb in this context. Googling to get some idea is hampered by "poofed" meaning "disappeared without explanation" in the context of computing: "After only a couple thousand print statements the program poofed ".

  33. Juanma Barranquero said,

    February 12, 2011 @ 9:01 am

    Just yesterday, in the "Stars With a Bang" blog there was an entry (http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2011/02/the_coolest_star_literally.php) with the following bit:

    "Dropping dramatically in temperature and brightness, we come to the newest class of stars: brown dwarfs. (That's dwarfs, not dwarves.)"

  34. RW said,

    February 12, 2011 @ 9:44 am

    Using "shutdown" as a verb is also pretty jarring. Worse, in my opinion, is the extreme factual inaccuracy of this article. Jón Frímann did not say that the IMO had warned of anything. The IMO themselves felt moved, presumably in response to this article, to post a statement on their web page saying "Presently, there are no signs of an imminent volcanic eruption in Iceland. The Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) did not issue a warning last weekend in connection with increased seismicity beneath the Vatnajökull ice-cap. If signs of an eruption were apparent, IMO would issue a warning immediately."

    Re Chris Lintott's comment – it doesn't seem to be the case that British or indeed any astronomical journals insist on "dwarves" as a plural of "dwarf". Searching on ADS (http://cdsads.u-strasbg.fr) for "dwarfs" and "dwarves" in the title of astrophysics papers gives 7728 results for the former and just 8 for the latter, none of which are from British journals.

  35. Robert Coren said,

    February 12, 2011 @ 12:10 pm

    It's not exactly the same thing, but I find myself thinking about "short-lived". It's true that these days, most people — at least most Americans, I don't know about the rest of the world — pronounce the second element [lɪvd], presumably from a visual association with the past tense of "live", but since it means "having a short life" I assume it could have been "short-lifed", but the f became a v for similar reasons to other such shifts described earlier. (I always pronounce it [lɑɪvd] myself, in which I follow W. S. Gilbert, who rhymed it with "contrived".)

  36. Colin said,

    February 12, 2011 @ 1:49 pm

    I see college students writing "knifes" for the plural of knife, and a google search finds plenty of hits. That could be a matter of how people think when they write (as opposed to when they speak), but is it possible that in standard speech, the f-to-v shift in the plural has never been fully established, or that the phonetic difference is often indistinct?

  37. Eugene van der Pijll said,

    February 12, 2011 @ 2:19 pm

    Professor Tolkien's remarks on his use of "dwarves" in the Lord of the Rings is a fictional, in-story account. The actual story is recounted in one of his letters to his publisher, which has been published in Letters of Tolkien (letter 17, of 15 October 1937, just after the publication of The Hobbit).

    No reviewer (that I have seen), although all have carefully used the correct dwarfs themselves, has commented on the fact (which I only became conscious of through reviews) that I use throughout the `incorrect' plural dwarves. I am afraid it is just a piece of private bad grammar, rather shocking in a philologist; but I shall have to go with it.

    And he goes on to justify this (retrospectively) by pointing out that the dwarves of Middle-Earth are not the same race as those in traditional fairy tales.

    So it looks like originally, it was just a (consistent) spelling error, which he later invented a rationalization for.

  38. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    February 12, 2011 @ 6:52 pm

    Ken Brown: What part of the verb is 'shite'? In my experience it's a noun.

  39. Matt Pearson said,

    February 13, 2011 @ 3:02 am

    Cialan: The rule that word-final "f" should be pronounced /v/ is for Elvish (specifically, Sindarin) names. "Gandalf" is not an Elvish name, but was borrowed from Old Norse, so the rule doesn't apply.

    As for "dwarves", this is probably as close as Tolkien felt he could get to an ancient-sounding plural without making the word unrecognizable to readers. I'd be very surprised if he pronounced "dwarf" with a final /v/ sound. (Actually, this is probably something that can be confirmed, since there are plenty of audio recordings of Tolkien reading his works.)

    And yes, this reply does confirm my status as a mega-geek…

  40. Peter Erwin said,

    February 13, 2011 @ 1:02 pm

    In terms of astronomical usage, I have to agree with RW: I'm not aware of any British journals that specify "dwarves" as a plural. Checking the Author Guidelines for the most prominent one, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, shows a reminder that "data" is a plural noun and a warning against using the serial comma, but nothing about plurals for dwarf.

    Pushing RW's ADS query a bit further: a full-text search of astronomical articles on the same site turns up 106 with "dwarves" and 68,654 with "dwarfs". The earliest citation with "dwarves" is from 1980; citations with "dwarfs" go back to 1894. The "dwarves" citations do include British journals, but not any obviously over- or under-representative fashion.

    (I'll note that as some who is both an astronomer and a Tolkien fan, I find myself consistently using "dwarfs" for astronomical objects and "dwarves" for stocky, mining-inclined fantasy races. I find it slightly odd to see Terry Pratchett using "dwarfs" for his, um, dwarves.)

  41. Pflaumbaum said,

    February 13, 2011 @ 5:12 pm

    @ John Walden

    I've never heard pooves, and Google has 4,490 results for it, as against 312,000 for poofs. So it seems pretty marginal.

    Mind you, that's still surprisingly few results for poofs, given that there are 4,100,000 examples of poof.

  42. John Walden said,

    February 14, 2011 @ 3:42 am

    Googling "poofs" in English only, without the words "smoke" reduces the 300,000 you mention still more. So does "poofs" without "cheesy" (because of South Park). It also helps to tell Google to ignore "poof". But it's certainly not many, with or without these restrictions, especially considering the other contexts that "poofs" could appear in: the computing one, "pouffes" misspelt and so on.

    At least all the "pooves" seem to be the same use. It may be an affection of some BrE speakers being knowingly and jokingly hyper-correct about plurals although using slang. I seem to have met a lot of them! Whether they might write it down like that is another matter.

    What's odder still is that "poofs" without "magician" is over a million. So I'm not inclined to take Google's word for anything.

  43. RW said,

    February 14, 2011 @ 9:41 am

    Further to Chris Lintott's comment – wondering if perhaps he himself had used "dwarves" in a paper, I searched his papers for any occurrences of either. I found only one paper on which he was a co-author, describing a new class of very small galaxies. It was published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, the most prominent British journal, and it contained the word "dwarfs" 18 times, with no occurrences of "dwarves".

    [(myl) This confirms my suspicion that Chris just mistakenly swapped the forms in typing his comment — unless he had them more systematically swapped in his memory.]

  44. Boris said,

    February 14, 2011 @ 1:39 pm

    I find [lɑɪvd] rather contrived myself. Never heard it used. If anything, I'd expect there was an original liv-ed pronunciation, like learn-ed.

  45. John Cowan said,

    February 15, 2011 @ 2:04 am

    Pflaumbaum: Tokens of poof in the singular are probably often the disappearance sound effect "Poof!" rather than the noun, which is not used in North America.

  46. Pflaumbaum said,

    February 15, 2011 @ 5:45 am

    @ Johns Walden and Cowan

    Yes you're right, I forgot about magicians' poofs.

  47. JimG said,

    February 16, 2011 @ 10:53 am

    In some parts of the USA, a poof is a small cushion thrown on a sofa or bed. I know not what its plural usage might be.

  48. oxfordslacker said,

    March 16, 2011 @ 6:55 am

    I like to whimsically pluralise 'oaf' as 'oaves' as a deliberate nod to Tolkein. I was pleased to note that I'm not the only one, as demonstrated in this post by The Comics Curmudgeon, which also manages to incorporate some wonderful neologising and txt spk. Naturally, I thought of Language Log straight away…

  49. Aaron W said,

    June 22, 2011 @ 4:11 pm

    When talking about glaciers, calving seems to be the standard form, rather than calfing. (413,000 vs 58,800 on google)

  50. Bruce Barret said,

    July 17, 2011 @ 6:19 pm

    Comedian Stan Freberg played with this problem in his recording "The Night Before Christmas" when the narrator (Uncle Stan) comically stumbles over "hooves on the rooves, or hoofs, on the roofs."

  51. Brigitte said,

    December 26, 2011 @ 1:24 am

    I originially came to this page looking for reasoning behind a piece of Stephen Sondheim's lyrics for Into the Woods. In "Agony (reprise)," Prince #2 has fallen for Snow White:

    PRINCE ONE: Did you learn her name?
    PRINCE TWO: No, There's a dwarf standing guard

    and then later…

    PRINCE ONE: It's no sicker than your thing with dwarves!
    PRINCE TWO: Dwarfs
    PRINCE ONE: Dwarfs…
    PRINCE TWO: Dwarfs are very upsetting

    I was wondering if anyone knows any reason why he would choose to make dwarfs the "correct" version in this little joke… I've realized it's probably just reference to the spelling in the title of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

    Still, this is interesting stuff! If I remember from my Annotated Hobbit, Tolkien originally wrote "elven" and refused to listen to the editor's note to spell it "elfen" instead. Is this at all related, perhaps? I don't think anyone really spells "elves" and "elfs". Anyways. Just rambling.

  52. Bhoy said,

    March 15, 2012 @ 7:49 pm

    To echo H. E. Baber: I use "dwarfs" as the verb and "dwarves" as the plural noun. That applies both to pronounciation and to the written form.

    He is a "native speaker of mid-Atlantic general American". I'm a Scotsman.

  53. William Whittingham said,

    June 21, 2012 @ 1:17 am

    Oh for gods sakes you all so miss the point. The Dwarves were the second born, only by appointment. How would you like it. The Elves, fancy pants and all, only snuck their way in because they had connections. Superseding the Sons of the Naugrim! And you argue, over a letter "f"?!

    There are far, far more serious ramifications to all this, than any of these commenters have espied.

    Disney used "Dwarfs" – blasted about the universe on their Urukan high powered and seductively idolatric media – only to carry on the ancient denigration of the Dwarves that Melkor began – long ago at the war during the creation of the World in the first age. On purpose. It all has to do with Melkor – for whom "Disney", are long distant offspring, thereof…

    Who also, through their media mass manipulation, control, all the dictionaries…

    Duh.

    Here we are are now smack dab in the very beginning of the 4th age – and still the plight of the Dwarves, is clouded in obscurity. Conveniently, by offspring of Melkoran forces who would gain from the obscurity. Anyone quoting Disney in support of using the rude derogatory and inflammatory term "Dwarfs", is only digging the knife deeper into the already agonized and distressed psyche of the Dwarves. Especially when any of them are around.

    The Dwarves. The True Firstborn. They deserve better. Shame on you all…

    Have a great day

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