Aside from all being villainous, what does J.K. Rowling’s Voldemort, H.G. Wells’ Morlocks, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Moria, Mordor and Morgoth have in common?
The root “mor.”
And these shady characters and locations associated with impending doom aren’t alone, linguist James Harbeck pointed out that in the King Arthur there lived a traitor named Mordred. Sherlock Homles enemy is Professor Moriarty. The list goes on.
“So what’s the deal with ‘mor’? Is there something to the syllable that suits it for melancholy, darkness, and villainy?” Harbeck wrote.
And why don’t some names like Morgan or Maurice carry the same weight?
“For starters, the Latin ‘mor’ root (as in moribund and mortal and French words such as morte) refers to death; there is an old Germanic root mora for darkness, which shows up in words such as murky; our modern word murder comes from an Old English word morth for the same; and, of course, a morgue is a place where dead bodies are kept,” the linguist wrote in a piece appearing in The Week. “That’s enough to give a familiar ring. And every evil name that has ‘mor’ in it adds to the weight of the association, especially when they’re famous evil names.”
Harbeck went on to wonder if the frequency of “mor” has less to do with its etymological origins but whether it’s just an association that has been adopted.
“Words that start with ‘gl’ often have to do with light (glow, gleam, glimmer, glitter, glisten, etc.) even though they are not all related historically; similarly, words that start with ‘sn’ often relate to the nose (snoot, sniffle, snot, snore, sneeze, etc.),” he wrote. “It doesn’t mean that all words with those letters have the meaning in common, but there is a common thread among a notable set of them.”
Harbeck delved into what he thinks are the roots of several famous villians with a “mor” sound. For more on the specifics, check out his full post, analyzing why so many might have come to “mor” in their names.
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