Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pet Words – Fairy (and Fairie, and Faery, and Fae)

Fairies are elusive beings, and their name is almost as mysterious as the creatures themselves. In Under the Green Hill (out now) and its companion, Guardian of the Green Hill (out in October) you'll learn a lot about fairies, but nothing about their name, so I thought I'd spend a little time on their many titles here.

Fairies are known shape-shifters, so it is only fitting that their name has many variants: fairy, faery, faerie, fae, fay. Which is right? Find a fairy and make them tell you! The word comes from Latin fata – the Fates – and before that, probably ultimately from a word meaning “to speak” which also gives us the word fame. How the title for the three women who were responsible for everyone's destiny became the word for the courtly and monstrous creatures known as fairies is slightly beyond me... but I guess that's what centuries will do to a word.

(Originally, fae meant the creatures themselves, and the -ery suffex meant their home, the Land of Faery – cf bakery, nunnery, rookery – and also their peculiar ways – cf knavery, tomfoolery. And that, my dears, is the first time in my life I've ever used cf, which is an abbreviation of Latin conferre, meaning compare.)

To make matters worse, it is often considered bad luck to say the word fairy directly. Saying their name is a sure way to call them – which is the last thing any sensible person wants. Fine if you get a wee pixie, but what if you get a Nuckelavee? (He's a sort of skinless sea-centaur who eats humans.) So people would call them the Neighbors, the Good Folk, the Wee Folk, the Fair Folk, the Gentry, the Green Men.

For the next few weeks, I'll be having a lot of fairy-themed posts here, to celebrate my two upcoming Green Hill releases. Do you have a favorite fairy? (You can say it is Tinker Bell – I won't laugh. She's malicious enough for the Unseelie Court.) I'll be reaching out to my many fairy-loving friends, too, to see if they'd like to do a guest post here. I love having company stop by!

Laura le Fay


Alexia Purdy said...

Thanks for the great info. Not too many people write about the fey. That's why I do.

Richard Jesse Watson said...

Laura, this sounds intriguing. I love the vast array of fairy snippets and expressions from different folkloric roots. Am just reading Phantastes by George MacDonald, turn of the century (1900) author who's fairies are some of the most beautiful and startling what with their shape-shifting shades and moods.

Shanan, The Book Addict said...

hmm favorite fairy? I don't know who my favorite fairy is but I know I am loving fairy books right now. I am working through the Wicked Lovely series and I love how she told the conceited fairy prince that she wasn't interested in him...I loved that! Otherwise, I really like Tinker Bell--but that may be that my two year old likes Tinker Bell right now so I get to watch her a lot. :)