Golems and trolls

I’ve always thought that the word golem was pronounced /ˈgɔləm/ with a short o as in doll, probably influenced by Tolkein’s gollum, and my preference for northern vowels. Yesterday however, while watching Going Postal, a film based on the Terry Pratchett’s book by the same name, I noticed that some other people pronounce it /ˈɡoʊləm/.

According to Wikipedia, golem /ˈɡoʊləm/ comes from Hebrew and appears as גלמי in the Bible (Psalms 139:16) and means ‘my unshaped form’. This became the Yiddish word גולם (goylem), and in Modern Hebrew גלמ (golem) means “dumb” or “helpless”.

According to the OED, golem is pronounced /ˈgəʊləm/ or /ˈgɔɪləm/ and comes from Hebrew גלמ (gōlem – shapeless mass) via the Yiddish גולם (goylem).

I pronounce troll /tɾɔl/, rhyming it with doll, whereas I’ve heard other people pronounce it /tɾəʊl/, rhyming it dole.

Troll /trəʊl/, a being from Norse mythology, comes from the Old Norse trǫll, though only arrived in English, probably from Swedish, during the 19th century.

How do you pronounce golem and troll?

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This entry was posted in English, Etymology, Hebrew, Language, Words and phrases.

12 Responses to Golems and trolls

  1. LSJ says:

    I pronounce golem rhyming with call ‘em and troll rhyming with droll (or dole, per your example).

  2. Petréa Mitchell says:

    It’s the latter pronunciation for me in both cases. I’ve actually never heard “troll” pronounced any other way.

  3. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever uttered the word “golem”, but if I did I’d probably pronounce it as /ˈgəʊləm/, and that’s how I think of it when I read it. I pronounce “troll” to rhyme with “doll”.

  4. Brian says:

    I’ve only ever pronounced it /ˈɡoʊləm/, probably due to my exposure to Jewish folklore and D&D. The pronunciation /ˈgɔləm/ seems to be exclusively for Gollum. I’ve also only heard “troll” pronounced /tɾəʊl/ or /tɾoʊl/; saying it to rhyme with “doll” makes it sound like you’re saying “trawl” (although that might not be the case for people without cot/caught?)

  5. Christopher Miller says:

    With /ou/, both.

  6. Yeah, Tolkien kinda effed up my inclination to pronounce golem properly too. Even while I was reading through the books, I pronounced it /ˈɡoʊləm/ in my head. It wasn’t until I saw the movies that I realized his coughing noise was supposed to be pronounced /ˈgɔləm/. Kinda messed up my world view there for a while :)

    As for troll, I pronounce it /tɾəʊl/ and have never heard it rhyme with doll :) I think you’re just crazy, Simon.

  7. Simon says:

    Brian – my pronunciation of troll and doll doesn’t rhyme with trawl or drawl, and I do distinguish cot and caught – my o in troll is like that in cot, not in caught.

  8. Petréa Mitchell says:

    I started thinking maybe the difference in pronunciation of “troll” is a British/American distinction, but I’ve just remembered the first Harry Potter movie, made mostly by British people, where everyone pronounces it to rhyme with “droll”.

  9. dreaminjosh says:

    Troll rhyming with doll? I’ve never heard that. My “troll” and “doll” have such drastically different vowel sounds that I don’t see how they could rhyme. “Two countries separated by a common language”, for real!

  10. Rauli says:

    I have always pronounced both words the same way Simon does. I’m reading these comments in astonishment. I’m not a native English speaker, though.

  11. Michael says:

    I’m afraid that your descriptions of sound using English words is based only on, I think, a certain American pronunciation. For example, for me (British, Estuary English), dole and doll are homophones, whereas (as mentioned above) cot and caught would not be.

    Here, the pronuciation you give for troll (/tɾɔl/) is almost that of the word trawl (/trɔːl/), excluding vowel length.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve only ever heard troll pronounced /trəʊl/.

  12. Simon says:

    Michael – my descriptions are based on my own pronunciation – RP with Lancastrian influences. For me dole is /dəʊl/ and doll is /dɔl/, while cot is /kɔt/ and caught /kɔːt/.