Tags: etymology


A Rose by Any Other Name: Euphemisms, Descriptions, Titles, and Epithets for the Fae

In days past, and even still in many rural vestiges where the undercurrent of the Otherworld is still palpable, the word "faery," though known and understood, is rarely heard slipping from the tongues of those who take to heart the perceptions, experiences, and traditions of their elders. According to folklore and legend, the faeries themselves are not overly fond of the term (and it's never a good idea to court even the possibility of offending the fae) 1. One source I discovered even claims that for everytime you pronounce the word, a year is deducted from your lifespan 2. "Faery" was couched in veils of caution. Collectors of folklore utilized the word in their queries, but their informants usually navigated around it with a hypersensitivity and fear like one tracing the edge of a cliff on a moonless night. "Everywhere secrecy and reserve is needed in the mention of them"3. W.Y. Evans-Wentz writes that "taboos, or prohibitions of a religious and social character, are [. . .] common in the living Fairy-Faith [. . .]. The chief one is the taboo against naming the fairies, which inevitably results in the use of euphemisms, such as 'good people', 'gentry', 'people of peace', Tylwyth Teg ('fair folk'), or bonnes dames ('good ladies') 4.

These days most of us regard such attitudes as superstitious, and we've become lax with its usage. Now it spills from mouth and pen without even the faintest tinge of consequence remaining to haunt the conscience. We may currently find it difficult to sympathize with the uneasiness surrounding "faery" considering the progressive prettification and trivialization of that word, but if we try to extend our empathy beyond our modern approach to the subject, we cannot blame them for their caution.

faery > fae > fée > fatarum > fatum > fata > fate

During a time when the literal and perceived link with the land was anything but tenuous — when the mysterious powers that governed the fertility of the soil, the shifting of weather, and the well-being of livestock could swiftly render people desperately vulnerable or conversely bestow upon them bountiful blessings, it simply wasn't wise to tempt Fate. Therefore, other terms and phrases were used in Faery's stead in order to keep their wrath at bay and/or to appease them. Flattering euphemisms, nebulous references, polite addressions, descriptions of awe and respect linger in their wake. By contrast or by compliment, they reveal how people regarded the fae and the state of consciousness they inhabited.

The following is but the beginning of a collection of variants5 and references both to the realm/state/condition/land of Faery and its inhabitants. In amassing this growing collection, I have searched for words which apply broadly to very large classes of faery or to Faery as a whole rather than words which refer to more specific "subspecies" of fae. I have chosen to focus on European faeries.

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