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Things of Middle-earth


Type: Songs & Stories

Description:“. . . then dancing among the trees he began to sing a song to infuriate them and bring them all after him, and also to let the dwarves hear his voice.
This is what he sang:

Old fat spider spinning in a tree!
Old fat spider can’t see me!
Attercop! Attercop!
Won’t you stop,
Stop your spinning and look for me?

Old Tomnoddy, all big body,
Old Tomnoddy can’t spy me!
Attercop! Attercop!
Down you drop!
You’ll never catch me up your tree!”
Flies and Spiders, pg. 170, The Hobbit

Attercop is from Old English at(t)orcoppa, Middle English at(t)er-cop(pe), "spider." In Chapter 5 ("Archaic Literary Words in the Dialects") of her Rustic Speech and Folk-lore (1913), Elizabeth Mary Wright notes that "many a delightful old word which ran away from a public career a century or two ago, and left no address, may thus be discovered in its country retreat, hale and hearty yet, though hoary with age" (p. 36-37). In this context she discusses attercop: "This was in Old English attorcoppe, a spider, from ator, attor, poison, and coppe, which probably means head, the old idea being that spiders were poisonous insects" (p.37). She cites as an example of literary usage a line in the thirteenth-century Middle English poem "The Owl and the Nightingale" (which Tolkien knew well), where the owl taunts the nightingale with eating "nothing but attercops, and foul flies, and worms" (lines 600-601).

Elizabeth Mary Wright (1863-1958) was a philologist, teacher, and the wife of Tolkien's teacher Joseph Wright (1855-1930), editor of the six-volume English Dialect Dictionary and professor of comparative philology at Oxford. Tolkien and the Wrights were close friends, and Tolkien served as Joseph Wright's executor.

The Annotated Hobbit, Annotated by Douglas A. Anderson, Ch 8, Flies and Spiders, Note 14

The Oxford English Dictionary defines tomnoddy as "a foolish or stupid person."

The Annotated Hobbit, Annotated by Douglas A. Anderson, Ch 8, Flies and Spiders, Note 15

Contributors: Still Anonymous, 02/29/04; added etymologies: Elena Tiriel 24May04

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