Thursday, July 03, 2014


Kim from Old Mission called to say that a word caught his attention while he was watching The Hobbit. At one point, the character Gandalf says something like, “At least he had the nous to get out of this situation.” In context, Kim reported, nous seemed to mean intelligence or knowledge.

Nous is an Anglicized version of a Greek word. Some pronounce it to sound like house or mouse, while others prefer the sound from goose or moose. In Greek, the original noos (νοοσ) would have been pronounced as two syllables, no-ahss.

J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of The Hobbit, was an expert in Old English and various Germanic/Scandinavian languages, but he had been educated in the classical tradition, which meant attaining proficiency in Latin and Greek. So when he made up a Middle Earth vocabulary and language, he drew on all of these elements.

In Greek, nous developed and expanded into many shades of intelligence. In various contexts, it could mean mind, sense, wit, reason, understanding, resolve, intention, intuition, and countless other variations. But in the quote from Gandalf given above, knowledge or common sense will do just fine.

Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about a month’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show. Look for the section called Words to the Wise.


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