Orcs vs. Goblins: What’s the difference?

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Postby Vecna » Tue Jul 11, 2000 4:06 am

Hi All:<BR><BR>I am reading LOTR for the first time at age 27. Hard to believe after all the D&D I played growing up. Anyway, one question that I can't seem to figure out is this:<BR><BR>In The Hobbit, Bilbo et al are captured by the Goblins crossing through a mountain pass and rescued by Gandalf. Bilbo finds the Ring and Gollum, etc. In The Hobbit, orcs are clearly referred to as a separate race from Goblins.<BR><BR>Then in Fellowship of the Ring, the Bilbo story is retold, but the creatures are named as Orcs, not Goblins (despite the fact that Orcrist, the Goblin Cleaver is referred to). Later on, as the group is travelling down the river from Lorien, they are waylaid by Orc archers on the East bank. Here Goblins is used for the first time, but in reference to the Orcs. What gives? <BR><BR>If Goblins and Orcs are interchangable names for the same race, then why are Orcs referred to as a clearly distinct race from Goblins in the Hobbit. If they do mean the same, why was it changed in LOTR?<BR><BR>This might be semantics, but it's been bothering me. Thanks to any who can help me out!!
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Postby Wildwood » Tue Jul 11, 2000 5:44 am

Vecna - hello! I do not know the reason behind the name change, from one story to the other, but orcs and goblins are really the same thing.<BR><BR>For my own part, I have always thought that they were called Goblins in The Hobbit, because it was more of a children's tale, and goblins are a traditional part of children's tales. But LOTR is much more serious, and the world of ME is much more exposed to the reader, so that the more serious, and more accurate, term 'Orc' is used.<BR><BR>But that is purest conjecture on my part. I am certain that Beleg or Hama or Whistler or another of our more expert posters will be along sometime soon to answer your question.<BR><BR>And welcome to the boards! Hope you like it here!<BR><BR>
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Postby yangqin » Tue Jul 11, 2000 6:24 am

Welcome Vecna,<BR><BR>I have The Lord of the Rings opened to Appendix F, and orcs are said to have been "first bred by the Dark Power of the North in the Elder days." I believe that somewhere in the text Gandalf (?) says that they were bred in imitation of Elves, but if I'm wrong about that, someone will correct me. Saruman went further, intermingling them with men so that a new "strain" of Orc appeared, and these were bigger and able to tolerate sunlight, hard runs, etc., which the earlier models weren't able to do (not for long periods, anyway).<BR><BR>Trolls are described as being real originally, but "dull and lumpish" until Sauron bred them to become more Orcish--able to learn language, for example. Another of his wonderful contributions to Middle Earth.<BR><BR>Goblins are not listed as a species in this appendix, but someone with more resources may know more.<BR><BR>I've always understood "goblin" as more descriptive than species-specific (as in making a "goblin" face), and I believe at several points the Hobbits encounter Orcs with what they describe as "goblin" faces, meaning, one assumes, even uglier than your run-of-the-mill Orc. This seems to support my own assumption, but others with more knowledge may have more to tell you.<BR><BR>As Wildwood just told you, many things were "tightened up" in The Lord of the Rings, as Tolkien became clearer and took Middle Earth to more specific, consistent, and intense heights, so you may run into a few more things that seem a bit contradictory, but I think her reasoning is well-founded. The Hobbit was a children's book, and she's probably right in her assumption about the use of the word goblin there. And, as she said, there are very many knowledgeable people here who can answer just about any question you can think of.<BR><BR>One word of warning: if you haven't finished the books yet, tread lightly on this board, as we're most of us re-readers (I'm about to begin my 25th read!) so you might end up learning things here that you should have learned in there own time in the books. I think everyone here would agree that one's first encounter with Middle Earth is a unique experience and we wouldn't want to accidently spoil any of it for you.<BR><BR>I'm glad you're reading this incredible work, and glad you're here to talk about it. You'll find everyone on this board to be learned and generous and fun to talk with. <BR><BR>Enjoy yourself.<BR><BR>Yangqin
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Postby Vecna » Tue Jul 11, 2000 6:39 am

Thanks for the warm welcomes, both of you! Believe me, I will not be reading very much apart from my own posts until I've gotten through all three books, and those posts will only be about contradictions I find if they're frequent and important. I don't want to clog this board with newbie questions that are answered if you've read the material, but this question didn't really fall into that category. About 35 pages left in TFOTR to polish off tonight. I honestly can't believe I didn't read this sooner.
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Postby Mitheradan » Tue Jul 11, 2000 7:01 am

There is no difference between Orcs and Goblins. They are the same race. The term Orc is based on the Elvish word Orch (Yrch for plural.) The term Goblin is a Westron or Common Speech word that usually only humans and hobbits use.<BR><BR>Bilbo would have used the term goblin because at the time he wrote his memoirs that would have been the only term he knew, but later in Rivendell he would have learned more elvish speech and as such began using the word Orc. Frodo did not write anything until he returned so he would have used the word Orc because that is what Aragorn, Leagolas and the other members of the Fellowship used.<BR><BR>I hope this helps.
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Postby cian » Tue Jul 11, 2000 7:23 am

Tolkien writes that 'goblin' is used as a translation in the Hobbit. From early on "orcs/goblins" appear together in the Mythos. In the very early mythology LOST TALES (well before the Hobbit) the terms seem fairly interchangeable, though Christopher Tolkien notes at some instances of wording orcs/goblins seem to be distinguished. In the LOTR both terms are still used, Grishnákh, for one example, being referred to as both orc & goblin.
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Postby yangqin » Wed Jul 12, 2000 7:13 am

One correction:<BR>Mitheraden states that "Orch" is elvish, with "Yrch" meaning plural. According to the Appendix F noted above, "Yrch" IS Elvish for Orc. Orc is Westron Speech. Plurals merely add "s".<BR><BR>Y.
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Postby cian » Wed Jul 12, 2000 7:37 am

Re-check that yangqin <img src="i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0> Yrch is the correct Sindarin plural of Orch.<BR>
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Postby Tar-Elenion » Wed Jul 12, 2000 10:00 pm

In Sindarin the plural is indicated by a vowel change (which varies for the vowel and where in the word it is) not an 'S'. In Quenya the plural is made by adding an 'I'.
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Postby cian » Wed Jul 12, 2000 10:26 pm

Adding to that re: Quenya nominative plural patterns (generally anyway!)<BR><BR>noun ends in vowel other than e --> -r, Noldo(r) <BR>noun ends in consonant, or e --> -i, Istar(i) Quende -> Quendi (displaces final e)<BR>noun ends in ie -- r, tiër<BR>*r plurals seem to avoid r vowel r
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Postby yangqin » Thu Jul 13, 2000 3:12 am

Cian and Tar-Elenion,<BR><BR>In the Appendix F it says "Orch" is Sindarin for Orc. Of course, you're right about "i" being the plural in Sindarin--don't know what I was thinking ("Orc-s," I guess). But when Frodo and the gang are hiding in the trees when they first enter Lorien, an Elf climbs up and says "Yrch!" and Frodo says "Orcs!" so it seems the current Elvish word is "yrch."<BR><BR>Confusing. As for its plural, do you think it is like "deer" which is the same singular and plural?<BR><BR>Just wondering...<BR><BR>Y.
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Postby cian » Thu Jul 13, 2000 9:21 am

Yangqin, (welcome BTW!)<BR><BR>Sindarin "Orch" = 'Orc', (App.F) and "Yrch" = "Orcs"; this example shows the vowel change -> o to y to make it plural -- as seen also in Sindarin "toll" island -> "tyll" islands for another o/y example -- but this is just a couple examples of constructing these particular Sindarin plurals. Tolkien writes that Sindarin plurals are mostly made with vowel changes, another variant example being "aran" king, "erain" kings.<BR><BR>Tar-Elenion added one way to make Quenya plurals in general by mentioning "-i", <BR>(Q. "aran" king, "arani" kings) upon which I expanded about Quenya. Hope that helped. <img src="i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0>
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Postby yangqin » Fri Jul 14, 2000 7:59 am

CRIKEY!! I GOT A SHIELD!!! <BR><BR>Didn't even notice--when did it happen? Why did it happen? Help, I'm so confused. Who am I? What is reality?<BR><BR>Anyway, <b>Cian</b>, how did you manage to learn and remember all of that! I'm very impressed. I never studied all those details in such, well, detail. I think I followed you. (Poor Vecna. Let's not give him the impression he has to know all of this to enjoy the books.)<BR><BR><b>Vecna!</b> You don't have to know all of this to enjoy the books! We're just so happy you're reading them, we don't want to intimidate you in any way. After you're done, you may get interested in all this other stuff, but if not, that's okay too. Tolkien wrote the back up material as back-up, and plenty of folks never get to it, and still cherish The Lord of the Rings just as much as those who do.<BR><BR>(There. Do you think that reassured him?)<BR><BR>Y.
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Postby Vecna » Mon Jul 17, 2000 4:48 am

Hi All:<BR><BR>Well, the response to my query has been overwhelming to me. Then again, I can relate to this level of interest in a subject you're passionate about. I am going to refrain from further postings until I finish the trilogy. The Two Towers go polished off last night. Parts of it were a bit slower than TFOTR, but not to the point I lost interest. The end was especially gripping. <BR><BR>I think I will post my thoughts on the whole work once I've completed TROTK. I am moving from Switzerland back to the US in a week, so it will probably be a little while before I'm online again, but I hope that my comments about the saga as a first-time reader will be interesting for all of you, and no doubt will spin off some interesting discussions based on what I've seen already in these forums.<BR><BR>I think I will pick up Simarillion (sp?) next as it seems to come pretty highly recommended. Thanks again for all of your answers to my question and I look forward to rejoining the forum in a few weeks time.<BR><BR>-Vecna<BR><BR>PS: Anyone who knows where there's a key to the little symbols under our usernames and how you acquire them, could you let me know? Thx.
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Re: Orcs vs. Goblins: What’s the difference?

Postby Billobob » Thu Nov 12, 2015 10:14 am

I always thought as a child that goblins were just a smaller variety of orcs that life in mountains and underground. But it seems that the term goblin was just the term in The Hobbit for Orc.
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Re: Orcs vs. Goblins: What’s the difference?

Postby Galin » Tue Nov 17, 2015 4:03 am

Not that you said otherwise but "goblin" also appears a number of times in The Lord of the Rings. With respect to size, at one point in the tale Saruman's larger uruks are referred to as "goblin soldiers" for example, and the goblin-head on the stake is Ugluk's head.

There is no distinction between orc and "goblin". Goblin is the Modern English word often (almost always) used to translate orc in The Hobbit, but not so often used to translate orc in The Lord of the Rings. In theory the word the modern reader sees should always be "goblin" but Tolkien thought the word orc was in sound a good name for these creatures, which were not traditional goblins anyway.

I note that Tolkien tells others translators of The Lord of the Rings (rendering the book into Swedish or Spanish or whatever) that the word orc should be translated (to some word in the language of translation) according to his own system, but JRRT asks that it be retained rather.

Tolkien's Quendi are not traditional "Elves" either, but no one seems to think the Quendi are larger or different than JRRT's "Elves" :wink:

There is a distinction between the words uruk and snaga, and a distinction between the translation words "goblin" (all kinds) and "hobgoblin" (larger kinds, the latter being used only once), but note that the first pair are both words spoken in Frodo's day, and the second pair are both Modern English words used in translation.

The relationship between orc and goblin is different: a word spoken in Frodo's day and its English translation.
Last edited by Galin on Tue Nov 17, 2015 5:46 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re:

Postby Galin » Tue Nov 17, 2015 4:37 am

Mitheradan wrote:There is no difference between Orcs and Goblins. They are the same race.


Agreed so far :)

The term Orc is based on the Elvish word Orch (Yrch for plural.)


It could be, but this is not confirmed by JRRT that I know of.

The term Goblin is a Westron or Common Speech word...


True in the sense that "goblin" represesents a Common Speech word (but is not itself Common Speech).

Bilbo would have used the term goblin because at the time he wrote his memoirs that would have been the only term he knew, but later in Rivendell he would have learned more elvish speech and as such began using the word Orc. Frodo did not write anything until he returned so he would have used the word Orc because that is what Aragorn, Leagolas and the other members of the Fellowship used. I hope this helps.


Here's where I disagree. Bilbo used the word orc right from the start (and wrote his tale after he returned as well), as did Frodo. As the Third Edition of The Hobbit notes, orc was the Common Speech word used by Hobbits at the time of the story, translated (by a speaker of Modern English) with "goblin".

Of course I realize the post I'm responding to is old, but it also seems to be a common theory that the Hobbits used the term "goblin" (which can only be a translation of some Westron word), as if the hobbits or Bilbo are using some word different from orc.

Even Tom Shippey (seemingly) once put forth a similar argument, but I can't agree.
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Re: Orcs vs. Goblins: What’s the difference?

Postby Melwa » Mon Jun 29, 2020 9:22 pm

I have another question more pointedly about the size issue. A friend of mine watched the trilogy recently, and I've been reading aloud bits of the books to supplement her understanding of the story. We were at the fight in the Chamber of Mazarbul, and came across this line describing the Orc that got a hit in on Frodo:

"...a huge orc-chieftain, almost man-high, clad in black mail from head to foot, leaped into the chamber"


Earlier, Gandalf says

There are Orcs, very many of them. And some are large and evil: black Uruks of Mordor."


which I believe indicates this orc-chieftain is likely of that larger breed - which indicates that most orcs are significantly smaller than a Man - maybe even closer to hobbit size. I didn't think the movies were that wrong with their depictions of orcs. Are there other examples of orc sizes compared to items we know the rough measurements of? Is this just another of those points between the development of the world from the simpler one of The Hobbit?
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Re: Orcs vs. Goblins: What’s the difference?

Postby scirocco » Sun Jul 19, 2020 7:32 am

Another pointer to the smaller size of non-Uruk orcs is at Helm’s Deep, where Gimli takes a break from the fighting because the hill-men he had to face were “over-large”.

There’s no suggestion that they were over-large compared to most Men, just large compared to Gimli. Yet he is quite happy to battle with Orcs, implying they are closer to his size, namely not much taller than Hobbits (as described in the Prologue to LOTR.)
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