p 240 of 493 of this PDF at

'Helms too they chose' is archaic. Some (wrongly) class it as an 'inversion', since normal order is 'They also chose helmets' or 'they chose helm ets too'. (Real mod. E. 'They also picked out some helmets and round shields'.) But this is not normal order, and if mod. E. has lost the trick of putting a word desired to emphasize (for pictorial, emotional or logical reasons) into prominent first place, without addition of a lot of little 'empty' words (as the Chinese say), so much the worse for it. And so much the better for it the sooner it learns the trick again. And some one must begin the teaching, by example. (My other question on this passage.)

ODO: Used to suggest that an unfortunate event or situation is the fault of the person specified and that the speaker does not feel any great concern about it

From the passage alone, I guess that Tolkien does care about how it (= modern English) would be worse off without the 'normal order', and better off 'the sooner it learns the trick again'. So does the bolded clause in the ODO, contradict Tolkien's heed and use of so much the better/worse for?

  • Tolkein is being a little elliptical when he says "But this is not normal order." What he means is: this putting the important word first is not a violation of normal order; rather we have a situation where "normal order" (subject verb object) cannot convey the desired meaning succinctly, and for that reason the "rule" can be ignored. English is so much the worse nowadays for not offering this important-word-first choice to the writer, and it will be better off when it learns the trick again. In other words, this is not normal order = this is not a time to use normal order.
    – TimR
    Oct 30, 2014 at 14:46

1 Answer 1


I think the connotation is that Tolkien is standing aside, and not attempting to direct how English should evolve. English may choose to be a better language, or English may choose to be a worse language, but that is a choice for English to make, not Tolkien.

(Of course I am using "English" as a sort of metonym for "the community of people who speak English")

The bolded clause from the ODO makes a stronger statement, but it is similar: the speaker is choosing not to be directly involved.

When Tolkien wrote this, he was a 62-year-old professor and nearing retirement. I think his attitude in the letter is similar to teachers who have seen many students: you can provide the opportunity, you can lead by example, but you cannot force a student to learn; the student must choose to learn.

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