A Secret Vice

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A Secret Vice
Secret vice.jpg
EditorsDimitra Fimi
Andrew Higgins
AuthorJ.R.R. Tolkien
CountryUnited Kingdom
Published07 April 2016
Media typeHardback, e-book
Preceded byThe Story of Kullervo 
Followed byThe Lay of Aotrou and Itroun 

A Secret Vice is the title of a talk written by J. R. R. Tolkien in 1931, given to a literary society entitled 'A Hobby for the Home', in which he first publicly revealed his interest in invented languages. Some twenty years later, Tolkien revised the manuscript for a second presentation.[1]

It deals with constructed languages in general and the relation of a mythology to its language. Tolkien contrasts international auxiliary languages with artistic languages constructed for aesthetic pleasure. Tolkien also discusses phonaesthetics, citing Greek, Finnish and Welsh as examples of "languages which have a very characteristic and in their different ways beautiful word-form".


Tolkien's opinion of the relation of mythology and language is reflected in examples cited in Quenya and Noldorin, the predecessors of Quenya and Sindarin. The essay contains three Quenya poems, Oilima Markirya ("The Last Ark"), Nieninque, and Earendel as well as an eight-line passage in Noldorin.

One of the most frequently quoted passages[citation needed] from the essay comes in a context in which Tolkien relates how he randomly met a fellow language inventor in the army:

The man next to me said suddenly in a dreamy voice: 'Yes, I think I shall express the accusative case by a prefix!' A memorable remark!
...Just consider the splendour of the words! 'I shall express the accusative case.' Magnificent! Not 'it is expressed', nor even the more shambling 'it is sometimes expressed', nor the grim 'you must learn how it is expressed'. What a pondering of alternatives within one's choice before the final decision in favour of the daring and unusual prefix, so personal, so attractive; the final solution of some element in a design that had hitherto proved refractory. Here were no base considerations of the 'practical', the easiest for the 'modern mind', or for the million – only a question of taste, a satisfaction of a personal pleasure, a private sense of fitness.

Published version[edit]

A Secret Vice was originally published in The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays (1983), together with six other essays by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by his son Christopher. A new, extended edition was published by HarperCollins on 7 April 2016, edited by Dimitra Fimi and Andrew Higgins. The new edition contains previously omitted passages from A Secret Vice, Tolkien's drafts and notes, as well as a hitherto unpublished new essay by Tolkien, "Essay on Phonetic Symbolism".[2][3]

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