Anglo-Saxon Word of the Week: orðanc

This version of the book cover was taken from Tolkein's illustrations of Orthanc and Minas Morgul.

This version of the book cover was taken from Tolkien’s illustrations of Orthanc and Minas Morgul.

This week’s word is brought to you by sheer whimsy – it’s my birthday later this week, so I’ve exercised a bit of blogger’s privilege and chosen something fun!

Orðanc, in the Anglo-Saxon, is a strong, masculine noun (at least in grammatical terms!) meaning skill, cleverness, or work that is skilfully done. Strong and masculine describe the noun’s pattern of declension — or, how the noun indicates number, case, and gender. This is how a regular st. m. noun declines in Anglo-Saxon:

Singular        Plural

nominative (subject)       orþanc        orþancas
accusative (object)         orþanc        orþancas
genitive*                         orþances     orþanca
dative   (direct object)    orþance      orþancum





Orðanc could also be used as an adjective to mean ‘skillful’ or ‘cunning’. Is there any better name, then, for Tolkien’s tower at Isengard? Orthanc was the fortified tower built by the Dúnedain and inhabited for many years by the white wizard Saruman, and arguably one of the titular towers featured in the second book of his Lord of the Rings trilogy. Tolkien himself has been noted as saying that the word derived either from “Mount Fang” in Sindarin, or from “cunning mind” in Rohirric, two of the languages Tolkien created for his Middle Earth. Rohirric, which Tolkien envisioned as a distant relative of Westron, the common tongue of Middle Earth, is represented by the Mercian dialect of Anglo-Saxon in the novels. 


*Put simply, the genitive case, also called the possessive case, describes a noun that modifies another noun, as in: “That is Rachel’s book.”

2 thoughts on “Anglo-Saxon Word of the Week: orðanc

    • Yay! Glad you’re enjoying it. 🙂 I’m looking at contemporary poetic translations of Anglo-Saxon works, and translating and adapting Judith into a collection of poems structured around Anglo-Saxon prosody, contemporary lyrics poetry, and oral storytelling techniques.

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