One of the most common questions I’ve been asked about neo-Khuzdul is “what does Gimli say to Haldir?” This has been asked since the release of The Fellowship of the Ring way back in 2001. With the release of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug last year, the question was revived in the form “what does Thorin say to Thranduil?”
The answers are a bit embarrassing to me for three different reasons.
First, it’s not a line I wrote. I was asked to come up with a curse for John Rhys-Davies, playing Gimli, to utter in the scene in Lothlórien. What I came up with was embarrassingly insipid and weak — I think because I was (and still am) a bit squeamish about real profanity, even in a language that nobody could understand. After all, some day I was going to have to explain this, possibly to audiences containing small children; and I’ve just never been very good at profanity, even if I can appreciate the kind of torrent of lyrical invective which is, alas, so very rare these days. So I just rendered “a great darkness upon you Elves” into the kind of Khuzdul I was producing then:
Gabil-narga ai-mênu Kanâd!
Of course, I’ve changed neo-Khuzdul quite a bit since then, and if I were to do it today, it might come out as:
Aznân gabil ai-fnadumên!
Where we see a bit of colloquial Khuzdul syncope. The elements are much the same, but the word for “elf” changed when I realized that the first Elves that the Dwarves would have encountered would probably have been of Telerin origin, or Avari closely related to the Teleri, calling themselves some version of *Pendi.
This is not, of course, anything that ever appeared on film or was recorded in the first place. This leads to my second embarrassment:
I had no idea what the line John Rhys-Davies uttered meant for over a decade. I don’t even know how it came to be filmed that way; a story that I heard was that he ad-libbed it on set, being unable to produce the line I wrote for one reason or another. But that is a second-hand or third-hand story, or worse, and if he has a different story to tell about it, it supersedes anything I have to say on the subject. What I always said when I was asked was that I assumed it was so unspeakably nasty as to be untranslatable — at least in polite company!
I didn’t even know exactly what he had said, much less its meaning. So when I finally got asked about it by the scriptwriter I had to find the scene and listen to it over and over and over again before I came up with:
[ɪʃˈkɑkʰʍi ɑɪ duˈrugnul]
Well, that may be Khuzdul, but it’s not my Khuzdul, and even includes a sound that I excluded from neo-Khuzdul — any variation of /w/. But when I heard that there was consideration of having Thorin use the same curse, I thought “Aha! Here’s a chance to deal with all of those questions, and the additional ones to come.” So I sat down and reverse-engineered (so to speak) a Khuzdul version from Rhys-Davies line, using my grammar and phonology.
What I came up with was:
îsh kakhfê ai-‘d-dûr-rugnul
îsh fit in well with my overall scheme for imperatives, CiCiC; it could come from a root ʔAYAŠA or *ʔAWAŠA ([j] regularly substitutes for /w/ before a vowel in Longbeard Khuzdul). ʔAWAŠA is reminiscent of English “wash,” and suggests a meaning “pour out, pour down, pour over.”
kakhf (f substituting for ʍ, since I had no /w/-type sound) is reminiscent of Latin cacāre, and so I decided that it must mean excrement or fæces.
–ê was the already-existing first person singular possessive.
ai we already knew meant “upon”.
So what was “durugnul”? Obviously it had to refer to the Elves in some way. But it had to be bitterly contemptuous, in a peculiarly Dwarvish way. It should go beyond the usual reflections on intelligence, sanity, sexuality and personal hygiene that are the backbone of so many English curses.
After quite a lot of thought (more than I like to admit to) I came up with the compound dûr-rugn. On the face of it, this isn’t much of an insult. Dûr simply means bare, naked, or uncovered, from a root √DAYARA (*√DAWARA) “strip, shave, make naked”; rugn (plural ragân) is the lower jaw (or chin). Dûr-rugnul is an adjectival form (here used substantively, preceded by the definite object marker id-) meaning “bare-chinned” or more literally “with naked (hairless) lower jaw.”
It is, Tolkien wrote, “characteristic of all Elves to be beardless” (Unfinished Tales, p. 247); but all adult Dwarves, male and female, have beards of which they are very proud. Only a very young Dwarf, or one who had suffered some tragic injury or illness, would lack a beard.
The beardlessness of Elves would therefore appear comic to the Dwarves, a sign that they were at best infantile, and would be an obvious subject of mockery; it might also suggest that they lacked the gonads (of either sex) to produce a proper beard. At any rate, to go about with a bare chin must appear to the Dwarves to be shameful, all the worse for the fact that the Elves appear unconscious of their shame, or even proud of it.
Of course, when walking in the world, a Dwarf generally keeps such thoughts to himself; but they are apt to be let loose when under stress or when angry. So we find both Gimli and Thorin using this crude Dwarvish surmise about the less-than-intact nature of the Elves in their curses.
The literal meaning is therefore May my excrement be poured upon the naked-jawed (ones); a meaning giving the full connotation of the words would necessarily be less literal and more expressively vicious.
So at long last, there is the answer — or, at any rate, an answer, if perhaps not the fully satisfying one people may have been looking for. And if I don’t find it quite as loathsomely vile as I always assured people it was, I suppose I have noone but myself to blame for my third embarrassment.