Farmer Giles of Ham - Philological Humour

Philological Humour

Tolkien, himself a philologist, sprinkled several philological jokes into the tale, including a variety of ingeniously fake etymologies. Almost all the place-names are supposed to occur relatively close to Oxford, along the Thames, or along the route to London. At the end of the story, Giles is made Lord of Tame, and Count Of Worminghall. The village of Oakley, burnt to the ground by the dragon early in the story, may also be named after Oakley, Buckinghamshire, near to Thame.

Tolkien insists, tongue in cheek, that the village of Thame originally referred to the Tame Dragon housed in it, and that "tame with an h is a folly without warrant." Another joke puts a question concerning the definition of blunderbuss to "the four wise clerks of Oxenford" (a reference to Chaucer's Clerk; Tolkien had worked for Henry Bradley, one of the four main editors of the Oxford English Dictionary):

A short gun with a large bore firing many balls or slugs, and capable of doing execution within a limited range without exact aim. (Now superseded, in civilized countries, by other firearms.)

and then satirises it with application to the situation at hand:

However, Farmer Giles's blunderbuss had a wide mouth that opened like a horn, and it did not fire balls or slugs, but anything that he could spare to stuff in. And it did not do execution, because he seldom loaded it, and never let it off. The sight of it was usually enough for his purpose. And this country was not yet civilised, for the blunderbuss was not superseded: it was indeed the only kind of gun that there was, and rare at that.

As Tom Shippey points out: "Giles's blunderbuss ... defies the definition and works just the same." (Introduction to Tales from the Perilous Realm).

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