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
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
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
Dar fys ma vel gom co palt 'hoc
"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.
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!'
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.
I have added to this list some interesting comments I have received from Daniel Dawson regarding
the "etymology" of certain Nevbosh words.
"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."]
"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."]
"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.)."]