A couple of nights ago Cindy asked about the phrase inscribed on The Ring (“one ring to rule them all” and so on). That got me to thinking about another favorite Tolkien rhyme:

All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost; The old that is strong does not wither, Deep roots are not reached by the frost. From the ashes a fire shall be woken, A light from the shadows shall spring; Renewed shall be blade that was broken, The crownless again shall be king.

It struck me that the phrase “not all” in the second line is a strange one. You could parse the line as “not (all those who wander are lost)” and it’s all very logical, but I don’t think that’s really the way we process such a sentence…it’s not the way I do, anyway. It doesn’t work in other contexts. You don’t say “not I like the Beatles” or “not my brother went to the store” do you? The proper decomposition is more like “(not all) who wander are lost” with “not all” being a special subject that means to parse the rest of the sentence normally as though “all” had been the subject before reversing the meaning. It’s a strange construct, really, which I’m sure requires a special case in any natural-language-processing computer program, and I wonder whether any other languages do this the same way.

On a slightly less weird note, I think “not all those who wander are lost” would make an excellent family motto…translated into Latin, of course. If anyone could provide such a translation I’d be much obliged.