On “Skrike”

“The yells and yammering, croaking, jibbering and jabbering; howls, growls and curses; shrieking and skriking, that followed were beyond description.  Several hundred wild cats and wolves being roasted slowly alive together would not have compared with it.”1

Here, friends, is the post on skriking, which I mentioned bore writing in Rereading The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings, Part 1.  Prior to writing this post, I had not the faintest idea of what skrike meant, though I could glean a general sense from its context in The Hobbit.  As for its etymology, I guessed its origin was Anglo-Saxon, or at least German or Scandinavian, but I knew nothing more.

Skrike proved challenging to research.  The resources I regularly use failed to contain the word.  The illustrious Oxford English Dictionary was the only one to present me with any information, but even this was scanty.  Skrike is “probably of Scandinavian origin,”2 and possibly derives from the Norwegian word skrika or from the Danish skrigeSkrike has been exiled to the English countryside and now survives only in dialect.  However, it has retained its Scandinavian definition, that is, to “cry,” “scream,” “yell,” “shriek,” etc..

Skrike is not the only Germanic word in this goblin-ish corner of The Hobbit.3  Every verb Tolkien uses in this sentence (“The yells and yammering, croaking…”) is of German, Dutch, Scandinavian, or Anglo-Saxon origin.  There is not a single Latin-based word in that list.  Notice the tonality this lends to the sentence.  Fascinating, no?


1J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, Chapter 4

2Oxford English Dictionary Online, “Skrike”

3“Germanic” does not refer only to German, but to the entire branch of language which includes German, the Scandinavian languages, and English.

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