Stick-at-naught Strider

Yard Sard

New Member
I've managed to let myself get behind by months, but now that I'm catching up again Gollum-like, I heard that the discussion in the field trip of session 196 (talking about the "scornful" names the Bree-folk gave Aragorn) stumbled across "Stick-at-naught Strider", which I had thought surely had been discussed at length before. It sounded like the participants were speaking of the term as though it meant Aragorn would not "stick" to any task, i.e. that he was a shirker or a lazy bum who wouldn't finish what he started. Someone said something that sounded like "I wonder what he wouldn't do, or that he promised to do but failed, that made them give him that name".

My understanding is that the phrase "stick-at-naught" means "will not hesitate to do anything", "liable to do anything"; i.e. it's saying he has no compunction, no morals. It's saying he's a scoundrel you can't trust not to stab you in the ribs as soon as you turn your back; he won't "stick at" such things.

Which goes nicely with the further discussion about how "Strider" is scornful because it paints a picture of him darting around through the shadows and the woods, always up to something, always in a hurry; you never know what he's gonna do next because he's always so secretive. Naturally you're going to assume he's some kind of highwayman or murderer.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Yes. I don't think that English English speakers would misinterpret this phrase. Just as 'Dreadnaught' (A famous name for many Royal Navy battleships) means 'dread nothing', 'stick at naught' means 'hesitate at nothing'. A 'stick at naught' will dare anything. It could be a compliment, implying determination and courage, but, as used by Breelanders of Strider, it could be implying that Strider would not hesitate even if the act and goals were morally dubious.
 

Forodan

Active Member
The first interpretation seems more likely to me. As far as Breelanders have seen, 'Strider' is a lazy bum who does nothing in particular for very long. And he disappears for long periods of time, too. Ne'er-do-well is the modern term. But we don't really know what rumors could have been spreading. If he and the rangers get into serious combat on a regular basis while protecting Bree, the consequences of some of those battles could have spilled over enough to get him a reputation as someone violent and dangerous. This would then be the reputation of the the rangers in general, of course.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
I think the confusion comes from the two different meanings of the word 'stick'. The word can mean 'stop', as in 'drive fast or you will stick in the mud'. The word can mean 'keep together' (or keep going,) as in 'if you want to learn the piano, you will have to stick at your practicing'.

If the former, then 'stick at naught' means 'stop at nothing'. If the latter, 'stick at naught' means 'can't persevere'.

It is my impression that in the 1950's, in England, to JRRT, 'stick at naught' would have meant 'stop at nothing'. However, I don't know how to be certain. The earliest use of this phrase I can find is from a Thomas Ward poem, England's Reformation in 1845. (I wouldn't be at all surprised to find that JRRT was familiar with this poem.)

Besides, the king, tho' dear he buy it,
Will stick at naught to purchase quiet.


The context is that the king will do anything (proclaim himself, rather than the Pope, as head of the English church) to achieve his objectives. That is, the king will 'stop at nothing'. This is the meaning, I surmise, of the phrase to JRRT.
 

Anthony Lawther

Well-Known Member
The first interpretation seems more likely to me. As far as Breelanders have seen, 'Strider' is a lazy bum who does nothing in particular for very long. And he disappears for long periods of time, too. Ne'er-do-well is the modern term. But we don't really know what rumors could have been spreading. If he and the rangers get into serious combat on a regular basis while protecting Bree, the consequences of some of those battles could have spilled over enough to get him a reputation as someone violent and dangerous. This would then be the reputation of the the rangers in general, of course.
I think a combinatory interpretation is possible: The Breelanders never see him involved in the traditional honest activities that allow a person to support themselves, yet he often has the means to pay for his bed and board. This inspires thoughts of him dishonestly coming by the means, most likely stealing from outlying farms and from people on the roads. The irony is that this is the type of activity that the Rangers are guarding against. So, 'stick-at-naught' can be seen as 'lazy' in town and ruthless out of town.

What I can't see is the 'lazy' interpretation alone. For that to be so, he would need to be hanging around town all the time, and leeching off the townsfolk.
 
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