Geek Etymology – The Lich

Today I bring you yet another post in the Geek Etymology series. This time we will be exploring the origins behind the name of another fantasy creature: the lich! Credit goes to Lilly for the suggestion of this word.

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To start with, what exactly do we consider a lich to be today? It is generally described as an undead creature, usually a human corpse in various states of decay, from zombie-like to completely skeletal. The main distinction between a lich and other undead or zombies is its higher level of intellect and powerful magical abilities. Liches are usually formed from the bodies of powerful mages and sorcerers who use necromancy to cheat death and remain for eternity to continue growing their power and gaining knowledge. Another key feature of liches is that they keep their essence or soul separated from their body in a container, usually referred to as a phylactery. This is often used as a weakness that needs to be sought out by heroes looking to defeat the lich, especially in roleplaying games. . In nearly every fantasy setting in which liches appear, they are evil or at least antagonistic, although there are some exceptions. Continue reading “Geek Etymology – The Lich”

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Geek Etymology – Orcs!

Here I am back at it again taking a look at the origins behind some of our favourite geekiest words. Today I’ll be tackling a seemingly straightforward word, and that is ‘orc’. As everybody should know, this is yet another fantasy creature, and should prove to have a relatively simple history behind it, but where does the word actually come from?

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Orcs from LotR: The Two Towers

Before we start, we should first define what an orc actually is. Orcs, sometimes spelled ‘orks’ tend to be brutish and violent, if not evil, humanoid creatures that are generally depicted with somewhat animalistic features such as tusks, snouts, or sometimes with an ape-like appearance. They are popularly depicted as green-skinned but also are sometimes black, grey or brown in colour. They are also commonly seen as large muscular figures, usually much larger than a human, but are also often small and scrawny and akin to a goblin. It can be hard to define their appearance overall, as they are depicted with a very wide range of characteristics, often even within the same piece of fiction.
Continue reading “Geek Etymology – Orcs!”

Geek Etymology – Drow and Dark Elves

Time to have another crack at looking at the origins of geeky terminology. This time I’ll be looking at where the ‘Drow’ came from, as well as taking this as an opportunity to look at where the concept of a ‘Dark Elf’ originates and how the two terms came to be linked.

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First of all we should establish what the current understanding of the term ‘Drow’ is. The Drow are a fantasy race that are dark skinned, usually white-haired, and share most other characteristics with other Elves. They are generally depicted as being evil and living deep underground, and having an affinity for dark magic, stealth, and spiders. The D&D 5th Edition Player’s Handbook says of them:
“Descended from an earlier subrace of dark-skinned elves; the drow were banished from the surface world for following the goddess Lolth down the path to evil and corruption.”
As I mentioned, the Drow are also referred to as ‘Dark Elves’, a term that is used far more widely than ‘Drow’, which is mostly limited to Dungeons & Dragons and things that take inspiration directly from it. There are Dark Elves in many other fantasy settings, including The Elder Scrolls, Warhammer, Kingdoms of Amalur, and the ‘Night Elves’ of Warcraft share a resemblance.
Continue reading “Geek Etymology – Drow and Dark Elves”

Gandalf is Actually a Dwarf

I come here today to spread some of my utter nerdiness and knowledge acquired through my fun but painful PhD. Part of my research of course involves looking into Tolkien and his effect in medievalism; the vast majority of the time from the perspective of the Vikings. And as Alex has gone all high brow lately with his etymology, I decided; “hell, isn’t that what I do anyway?!”.

So, you probably would be thinking: “what is she going on about? How can Gandalf be a Dwarf?!”. Well, I mean he isn’t exactly a dwarf, but then, the terminology is confusing. As you may know, Tolkien took a lot of inspiration from Norse mythology whilst creating Middle-earth…In fact, the very name Middle-earth is what Midgard means in English: the land in the middle which isn’t Asgard, Nilfheim, or any of the others. Norse cosmology includes nine realms, and Midgard is just where the humans live. It gets its name from the fact that it is somewhere in the middle of Yggdrasil – The tree of life. Okay, so that was some easy trivia which you probably knew already. Same if I ask you the name of the dwarves from the Hobbit right? Okay let’s see if this list rings a bell: Continue reading “Gandalf is Actually a Dwarf”

Geek Etymology – Mana

Today I bring you the next post of Geek Etymology! If you missed my first steps into the past of our favourite geeky terminology then take a look here!

This time I will be tackling the mysterious origins of the word that we give to the power source of wizards and spellcasters, the very essence of magic: Mana! It’s in our name so I thought it was the obvious next choice. Unlike with the Paladin last time, there is far less actual etymology to follow with the evolution of the word, so I won’t be going down much of a rabbit hole this time. The origins of this word are however still rather interesting and maybe unexpected.

mana_potions_by_isaac77598-d6pxj8c Continue reading “Geek Etymology – Mana”

Geek Etymology – The Paladin

Have you ever noticed a recurring word that’s used commonly among various geeky things? It could be a piece of terminology you see only in roleplaying games, or perhaps a word that has been appropriated and changed for use in fantasy or sci-fi settings. I come across a few of these, and I always wonder where they come from, so here I’m going to explore them with Geek Etymology!

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To start with I thought it would be appropriate for me to look into the origins and evolution of the word ‘Paladin’. As most of my friends will tell you, I usually end up playing a paladin or similar character in RPGs, and I also go for a paladin style in other games such as Magic: The Gathering. To be honest it is probably this word alone that got me to think of looking into the origins of words used in RPGs and other geeky stuff, but once I started to look around I found many others that warrant some research.

Before we look into the past of the paladin, let’s see what it means to us today. Although there are some other minor uses, the primary way we see the term used is to describe a fantasy character, either in a narrative sense, or a mechanical sense as the character’s ‘class’. They are usually characterized as a holy warrior who fights for the forces of good against evil, usually heavily armoured, wielding a shield and some holy magic and healing ability. As of today you’ll find the word most closely linked to Dungeons & Dragons, but also plenty of other RPGs which were influenced by D&D, as well as many Videogames. Continue reading “Geek Etymology – The Paladin”