Orcish Curse

Is the phrase from “The Lord Of The Rings. The Two Towers” spoken by some orc of Mordor in debased variant of Black Speech to express disapproval of Isengard's orcs holding Merry and Pippin captured (Book Three, Chapter III: The Uruk-hai).

Uglúk u bagronk sha pushdug Saruman-glob búb-hosh skai

It's translations illustrate how often Tolkien changed his mind during the work. They are listed hear in order of publication:

  1. In the final version of the book (1954 – 1955) the curse was not translated at all, and trilogy's Appendix F says that it is Black Speech in “the more debased form used by the soldiers of the Dark Tower”.
  2. “Vinyar Tengwar” (VT) journal published a draft to Appendix F in issue 26 (1992) with analysis by it's editor Carl F. Hostetter. The translation there was “Uglúk to the dung-pit with stinking Saruman-filth – pig-guts, gah!”
  3. Cristopher Tolkien's book “The Peoples of Middle-earth” (“The History Of Middle-Earth”, volume 12, 1996; abbreviated as PM) contains older draft with a translation “Uglúk to the cesspool, sha! the dungfilth; the great Saruman-fool, skai!”
  4. “Parma Eldalamberon” (PE) issue 17 (2007) published all phrases from “The Lord Of The Rings” in languages of Middle-Earth with translation and analysis. It translates the phrase as “Uglúk to torture (chamber) with stinking Saruman-filth. Dung-heap. Skai!”. It was taken from the draft to the 2nd edition of LOTR (1965) written in the late 1950s (after initial release of the Trilogy in 1955). Therefore this translation could be considered the final version.
  5. the same issue of “Parma Eldalamberon” gives some older translations (made between 1st and 2nd editions of LOTR)

The table of word-to-word translations (in order from newer to older):

Black Speech word English translations Etymology
bagronk 4) torture chamber,
5) dungeon,
2) dung-pit,
3) cesspool
bag < WAGH (filth) or Noldorin “baul” < ÑGWAL (torment)

ronk < Quenya “ringwë” (cold pool, lake) < RINGI (cold)
or either from Quenya “rondo”, Noldorin “rhond”, “rhonn” < ROD (cave)
búb-hosh 4 & 5) dung-heap, muck-heap,
2) pig-guts,
3) great
glob 4 & 2) filth,
5) foul,
3) fool
pushdug 4 & 2)stinking,
5) squalid « filthy,
3) dungfilth
sha 2, 4, 5) with,
3) (not translatable interjection)
skai (not translatable interjection of contempt)
u to
Uglúk (orc's name)

Different versions make hard to interpret the words “bagronk”, “pushdug” and “búb-hosh”. Existing dialects prefer the variant from Vinyar Tengwar or use all translations to illustrate quarrels of orcs caused by misunderstanding each other.

  • It's assumed in Nûrlâm that “pushdug” can be split either as “pushd-ug” (to stink + present participle suffix as in A. Appleyard analysis) or “push-dug” (dung-filth).
  • In “bagronk” the second part (“ronk”) is less controversial as all translations are synonymous (chamber, pit, pool). As for “bag”, meanings “cess” and “dung” are quite related. Nûrlâm dialect treats the translation “torture-chamber” like “poetic” (wrong word for such a word) as being put inside dung pit is definitely a torture.
  • Because “búb-hosh” is already split with hyphen, it leaves no room for different versions, so a trick to bind all translations as with “pushdug” is not possible (no “bubh-osh”). Which is disappointing for such different translations. The only loose connection is interpretation of “hosh” as “heap”, “pile”, “great number” and for “búb” is to call pig a dirty animal, both very doubtful.

It's interesting that both translations of “glob” occurs in phrase “Saruman is a fool, and a dirty treacherous fool” of orc's quarrel in the same chapter. And for “búb-hosh” also: “I don't trust you little swine. You've no guts outside your own sties”, however the word “guts” here isn't in literal meaning. Then go more words from the curse: “Swine is it? How do you folk like being called swine by the muck-rakers of a dirty little wizard?” (italics in this sentence are from the book). “Muck-rakers” better corresponds to older translations of “bagronk”, however a newer translation of “búb-hosh” is also suitable. However, Nûrlâm's author prefers the earlier translation from Vinyar Tengwar because it has more connections with later conversations in “Uruk-hai” chapter.

This phrase is also impersonal, moreover it has no verb too! “Uglúk” here is direct object and “u bagronk” is indirect object. However with less strict approach one may say that preposition “u” took verbal meaning “go to” (and that is probably why it was used standalone), then “Uglúk” is subject.

orcish_curse.txt · Last modified: 2023/09/07 19:38 by