√PHAN root. “cover, screen, veil; white, (light white) shape; shape, vision”
The earliest iteration of this root was unglossed ᴱ√FANA or ᴱ√FṆTṆ (the latter marked with a “?”) in the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s with derivatives like ᴱQ. fanóre “day-dream”, ᴱQ. fansa “swoon”, and ᴱQ. fantl “vision, dream, hazy notion, imaginary idea” (QL/37). The root ᴹ√PHAN also appeared in The Etymologies of the 1930s, but the entry was unglossed, empty and eventually deleted (EtyAC/PHAN), perhaps supplanted by ᴹ√SPAN; see that entry for discussion.
√PHAN appeared quite a few times in Tolkien later writings, however, mostly in connection to Q. fanya “cloud” from the Namárië poem and S. Fanuilos as a name for Elbereth in the Sindarin prayer A Elbereth Gilthoniel. In connection to Fanuilos Tolkien said: “√FAN ‘white’, but especially applied to reflected light as of clouds, snow, frost, mist. Cf. fanya, Quenya, (white) cloud” (PE17/26). In a more extensive note he wrote:
The element FAN- (Q fana, S fân) is “elvish” and not easy to translate. It may be said to mean “shape”, but with the added notion of light and whiteness; it is thus often used where we might use “a vision” — of something beautiful or sublime. Yet being elvish, though it may be used of things remote, it has no implication either of uncertainty or unreality. The Fân here is the vision of the majesty of Elbereth upon the mountain where she dwelt. So that Fanuilos really means in full: Figure (bright and majestic) upon Uilos (PE17/26).
Tolkien also wrote a lengthy essay discussing this root in several versions (PE17/173-180). The second version of this essay began:
√PHAN-. The basic sense of this was “cover, screen, veil”, but it had a special development in the Eldarin tongues. This was largely due to what appears to have been its very ancient application to clouds, especially to separate floating clouds as (partial) veils over the blue sky, or over the sun, moon, or stars. This application of the most primitive derivative *phanā (Q fana, S fân) was so ancient that when *phanā (or other derivatives) was applied to lesser, handmade, things this was felt to be a transference from the sense “cloud”, and words of this group were mainly applied to things of soft textures, veils, mantles, curtains and the like, of white or pale colours (PE17/174).
Finally, in The Road Goes Ever On (RGEO) from 1967, Tolkien wrote:
Fana- is an Elvish element, with primary meaning “veil”. The S. form fân, fan- was usually applied to clouds, floating as veils over the blue sky or the sun or moon or resting on hills. In Quenya, however, the simple word fana acquired a special sense. Owing to the close association of the High-Elves with the Valar, it was applied to the “veils” or “raiment” in which the Valar presented themselves to physical eyes ... The High-Elves said these forms were always to some degree radiant, as if suffused from a light within. In Quenya, fana thus came to signify the radiant and majestic figure of one of the great Valar. In Sindarin, especially as used by the High-Elves, the originally identical word fân “cloud” was also given the same sense (RGEO/66).
This discussion in RGEO is essentially a summary of the much lengthier essay on √PHAN noted above. Thus it seems Tolkien’s latest notion of the root was that it originally mean “cover, screen, veil”, and was applied to clouds as veiling the sun, and from this application the root came to refer to white, radiant and soft things. In the Quenya of Valinor the word Q. fana was then applied to the radiant materialized bodies of the Valar, and when the Noldor again encountered the Sindar this sense influenced S. fân (originally just “cloud”) as well.
References ✧ NM/237; PE17/26, 36, 153, 173-174, 179-180; RGEO/66; VT43/22
ᴹ√PHAN root. “[unglossed]”
A deleted root in The Etymologies of the 1930s with no glosses or derivatives and no clear function (EtyAC/PHAN).
Reference ✧ EtyAC/PHAN
ᴱ√FANA root. “*dream, vision”
References ✧ LT1A/Fanturi; QL/37