Saturday, January 24, 2015

Dwarfs versus Dwarves

What's the proper plural: dwarfs or dwarves? And what does the Eiffel tower have to do with it?


Well, I love it when high culture and gaming culture intersect. And so I had a chuckle yesterday when thumbing through the latest issue of the TLS (aka the Times Literary Supplement). Nothing is too rarified for the TLS; as the missus says, it's the best source for news about
latest Ph.D. thesis on the relationship between penises and pepper-pots in ancient Greece. And their letters to the editor are especially entertaining if you like watching academics bitch slap each other over questions like the number of biblical references in Proust.

Anyway, issue #5831 (Jan. 9, 2015) of the TLS contained the following letter to the editor regarding a review of the Italian novel Tutto il ferro della torre Eiffel ("All the Iron in the Eiffel Tower"):

 Sir, -- Adam Mars Jones' remarks in his discussions of Michele Mari's novel Tutto il ferro della torre Eiffel are interesting in making three references to "dwarves"... Look up "dwarf" in a decent dictionary and you will invariably find the standard plural listed as "dwarfs". It was J.R.R. Tolkien, in Appendix F to The Lord of the Rings, who revived the rare and obsolete form "dwarves", hoping by it to distinguish the "character and power" of the dwarfs in his own imagined mythology from the debased dwarfs of folk tales. From Mars-Jones' description, Mari's dwarfs, while serious enough to engage in murder, look to be essentially evil pranksters, and a long way from Tolkien's dignified "dwarves" -- which in any case have no evident presence outside his own works...
Mark O'Sullivan
Thus, the heavily Tolkien-influenced Dungeons and Dragons has always used (and continues to use) "dwarves" (a fact which O'Sullivan misses when he says that spelling has "no evident presence outside" Tolkien). On the other hand, Warhammer (from the 1st to the 8th edition) generally uses the more conventional "dwarfs".

What should you use? I like Mark O'Sullivan's approach. If the fellas in question are of low moral character, you should use "dwarfs". But if they are dignified and potent, use "dwarves". Grammar is easy.

Dwarfs (note shifty eyes) 


  1. Really nice looking Dwarfs. GW has used Dwarfs rather than Dwarves for about the last 12 years (before that they were interchangeable I believe). Anyway, great models!

  2. GW, shifty dwarfs in the shadow of a giant of literature. Discuss.

  3. Being a rather big fan of Tolkien, I use 'dwarves' when discussing the fantasy race. Excellent painting on your own dwarves, by the way!

  4. Thanks for the kind words, guys.
    Stephen - I didn't know that GW used dwarves and dwarfs interchangeably. For my "research" I checked the Forces of Fantasy for 1st edition Warhammer, the orange rulebook for 3rd edition, and their current website. But I'm sure their use was pretty inconsistent. Like Gaz, I usually use "dwarves" although I confess that until now, I've never given it much thought.

  5. Dwarves they have been, dwarves they shall remain. Saying dwarfs makes one sound as though he enjoys nascar and low brow pornography.