Nevbosh - new nonsense

The crude Animalic language seems to have died when one of its inventors, Majorie Incledon, lost interest. However, her sister Mary and some other kids embarked on the construction of a new language. It was called Nevbosh, which is Nevbosh for "New Nonsense" - new in the sense that it replaced Animalic, the old nonsense. However, this new language was markedly less nonsensical than Animalic. "I was a member of the Nevbosh-speaking world," Tolkien proudly recalls. (MC:203)

What were teenage Tolkien's contributions to Nevbosh? According to Humphrey Carpenter in J. R. R. Tolkien - A Biography, chapter 3, he and Mary "collaborated to invent [this] new and more sophisticated language". However, this is not the story told by Tolkien himself in The Monsters and the Critics p. 203. According to this, Tolkien's role in the construction of Nevbosh was more humble; he merely contributed to the vocabulary and influenced the spelling.

In any case, Nevbosh was the first relatively sophisticated invented language Tolkien came in contact with, though he had already started such invention himself (MC:203: "I was older in the secret vice...than the Nevbosh originator"). But the sole surviving Nevbosh text, not counting a few isolated words mentioned by Tolkien, is the poem given in Carpenter's biography and in MC:203:

Dar fys ma vel gom co palt 'hoc
pys go iskili far maino woc?
Pro si go fys do roc de
Do cat ym maino bocte
De volt fac soc ma taimful gyróc!'

"There was an old man who said 'how / can I possibly carry my cow? / For if I was to ask it / to get in my pocket / it would make such a fearful row." (The translation given by Carpenter substitutes "basket" for "pocket", but this is evidently just to save the rhyme with "ask it": Bocte means "pocket", just like the English word it is a distortion of.) Concerning the sources for the vocabulary, see the word-list below. English, French and Latin are the main ingredients.

Tolkien notes that the children, when distorting known words, showed an intuitive understanding of elementary phonetics - they felt that certain sounds were "similar". They could make voiced sounds unvoiced ("get" > cat) or vice versa ("to" > do), turn spirants into plosives ("there" > dar) or alternate between various nasals ("in" > ym). Another such "primitive and arbitrary sound-law" was to replace final -ow of native words with -oc: "how" > hoc, "row" > gyróc (but where did the gy come from?)

Looking back, adult Tolkien considered Nevbosh more of a code than a language. What he found most interesting was the few words that were not simply distortions of exisiting words, such as iski-li "possibly" or lint "quick, clever, nimble" (MC:205, 206). The fusion of sound and meaning in a way that simply pleased the inventor was the principle he was to construct his own languages on - the earliest preserved example being Naffarin.

Nevbosh Wordlist

I have added to this list some interesting comments I have received from Daniel Dawson regarding the "etymology" of certain Nevbosh words.
bocte "pocket". (Distortion of English word; mistranslated "basket" in Carpenter's biography)
bosh "nonsense". Only attested in the compound Nevbosh, q.v. [Daniel Dawson comments: "Bosh is a colloquial word in E. meaning 'nonsense' (and which, according to my dictionary, derives from Turkish!). Mainly British, I think."]
dar "there". (Distortion of English word)
co "who", attested as relative pronoun only. (Latin qui "who, what" + English who.)
cat "get". (Distortion of English word)
de "it", subject or object as in English.
do "to", infinitive mark. (Distortion of English word)
fac "make" (Latin facio "make"). Past tense *fact "made"? Also in faclint.
faclint "teach" (fac + lint, sc. "make lint", see lint). (MC:206)
far "carry". Past tense *fart "carried"?
fys "was, were" (for the plural sense, see MC:205). (Latin fui "I have been", Spanish fui "was")
go 1. person sg. pronoun, I. (Latin and Greek ego)
gom "man" (Latin homo, Old English guma)
gyróc "row" (noise) (Distortion of English word + an unanalyzable prefixed element gy-.) [Daniel Dawson comments: "The gy- in gyróc is probably related to the Germanic Ge-, which I know in at least Ger. and Anglo-Saxon (AS) tend(ed) to make a noun collective, or something along those lines. This is made plausible by the fact that one Ger. word for 'noise' is (das) Geräusch or, in a technical sense, (das) Rauschen, which are similar to gyróc. Additionally, my dictionary suggests that E. 'row' (in the sense of noise -- quite British, also) might be a back-formation from rouse, which is extremely similar to Rauschen."]
hoc "how" (Distortion of English word.)
iski-li "possibly" (*iski "possible" + li adverbial ending?) (MC:205)
-li possible adverbial ending; see iskili. (Alternative spelling of English -ly.)
lint "quick, clever, nimble". (Quenya *linta "quick"; only pl. lintë is attested.)
ma "a, an" (indefinite article) English an reversed and another nasal substituted? (Cf. ym for "in")
maino 1. person sg possessive pronoun, my (and mine?) Distortion of English word. [Daniel Dawson comments: "Maino seems simply parallel to Ger. mein (and maybe in AS?), rather than a distortion of 'my'/'mine'."]
nev "new". (Distortion of English word.) Only attested in the compound Nevbosh, q.v.
Nevbosh "New Nonsense" (nev + bosh), a language invented by some of young Tolkien's friends
palt "said" (pal- stem of verb "say" [MC:205] + t past tense. Cf. volt.) (Distortion of French parler.)
pro "for" (From Latin, cognate with English word)
pys "can". (From French pouvoir, present indicative puis, imperfect subjunctive pusse) Past tense *pyst "could"?
roc "ask". Past tense *roct "asked"? (Latin rogo)
si "if" (in Tolkien's words, "pure plagiarism" of the French and Spanish word for "if")
soc "such" (Distortion of English word.)
-t evidently a past tense ending (see palt, volt). English -ed, pronounced d or t.
taim "fear" (Latin timeo). taimful fearful
vel "old" (French vieil, vieux.)
volt "would" (probably *vol- stem "will" + t past tense. Cf. palt.) Distortion of English word; also influenced by the verb "will" in Latin and French (volo, voloir).
woc "cow". (English word reversed; cf. also Latin vacca, French vache; the kids were well aware of this double "etymology")
ym "in". (Distortion of English word?) [Daniel Dawson comments: "Ym -- not sure about this one, but it looks like Ger. im (= in dem, 'in the', for masc./neut.)."]

Ardalambion Index