Orc or goblin? is there a difference?

Discussion in 'The Hall of Fire' started by Mariad, Mar 1, 2009.

  1. Mariad

    Mariad Registered User

    while playing the online game LotRO, i remember that I called a goblin an orc, and someone corrected me. what I want to know is, what is the difference. If i remember correctly, at the beginning of The Hobbit Tolkien wrote that for simplicities sake he would refer to orcs as goblins, I don't have the time right now to look up exactly what he said, but does this mean that for time he was just grouping them together, or that they are the same species?:confused:
  2. Hobbit-GalRosie

    Hobbit-GalRosie Cowgal Hobbit

    The Hobbit wasn't originally intended to get mixed up in the greater mythology of Tolkien's work and sometimes has some ambiguous stuff like that in it. There seemed to be enough distinction between the Moria Goblins and other Orcs and Uruks that I do tend to think of them as distinct, at least inasmuch as Elves and Men are...they're enough of the same race that they could interbreed but they're still their own distinct sub-species...just my take...I need to look up some of the quotes on this matter again, I believe there were some things that mostly back me up on this.
  3. Úlairi

    Úlairi Crying in the Wilderness

    I've often wondered the same thing, and I'm sure Alcuin would be able to elucidate the distinctions far more competently than myself (based on some of the impressive discoveries he made in the Gandalf's Mark thread). However, Tolkien does have a little to say on the matter...

    I'm unsure what Old Elvish in this particular context means. If it is extrinsic to The Legendarium than Alcuin's going to have to be your man as you'll have to seek elsewhere in terms of Old Elvish Translations. However, if Old Elvish is simply a reference to the Quendi (and the Avari) and thus Quenya translations; then goblins is just a Quendi translation for Orcs and there is no difference - which is a lazy albeit clever way of Tolkien avoiding philological and grammatical corrigendums in his works. He does mention that the Istari's and the Dwarf names are from the Elder Edda which contained pagan poems of Scandinavian origin and constituted a majority of the Norse mythology (just as a side-note ;)).

    This likely would be the most compelling evidence that Tolkien considered Orcs and Goblins to be one and the same:

    Tolkien literally equates the two in the extract above.

    However, the quote below explains all:

    Tolkien believed that orc may have been an Old English translation for demon and contended that the usage of goblin was a translation of this word in The Hobbit; which conincides eloquently with the translation being Elvish. So I assume when Tolkien stipulates that it is an Elvish translation he intends it to be a Quenya or Sindarin translation (it apparently is orch as singular and yrch as plural in Sindarin). In Quenya it is translated as urco (stem urcu-) and has the same translation for goblin. The problem however, is that rc does not exist in Quenya and thus it is correctly urko (stem urku-). Tolkien comments about the origin of the word orc in The War of the Jewels:

    So orch in Sindarin is translated as orc due to its similarity from the Old English orc which, apparently, derives from the Latin word Orcus which means death, the Lower World or whales. Someone may need to clarify this one...

    Tolkien then further delineates one difference between the two:

    Essentially Tolkien used the words interchangeably as they meant the exact same thing. Orcs are goblins and vice versa. It appears that he changed his mind in the period between the creation of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and decided his personal preference for the term Orcs;and then later equated the two in Elvish (and other) translations.


  4. Galin

    Galin Registered User

    There's no difference. Here is the explanation that Tolkien himself published after he had written The Lord of the Rings (meaning he added the following to a revised edition of The Hobbit).

    '(2) Orc is not an English word. It occurs in one or two places but is usually translated goblin (or hobgoblin for the larger kinds). Orc is the hobbits' form of the name given at that time to these creatures, and it is not connected at all with our orc, ork, applied to sea-animals of dolphin-kind.' JRRT The Hobbit

    Orc is Westron, 'goblin' is a modern word that (sometimes) translates it. This idea works for The Lord of the Rings as well.

    The external history (looking at Tolkien's work through the years) is more complicated and confusing here, but this is the idea JRRT landed on for publication. Orcs come in different sizes, for example, but they are all Orcs. Or to translate that more completely into English: Goblins come in different sizes, for example, but they are all goblins.
  5. Úlairi

    Úlairi Crying in the Wilderness

    Isn't that just what I said Galin? :p

    Incidentally, are you an active member of the same alias on lotrplaza.com? Good to see you back on TTF though... ;)


  6. Galin

    Galin Registered User

    Well I like to add the text that Tolkien published himself. I anyone's interested, for a description of the goblins of G. MacDonald see:


    Which also looks, in part, at the same question in this thread.

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