Sep 2, 2015

Etymology Expeditions: Fairy Tales

After last weekend, I thought we'd continue with the fairy tale theme. Ever wonder why a stepmother is called stepmother? Or where the word "goblin" comes from? Let's find out!

First up: stepmother, from Old English steopmodor. Old English steop- has connotations of loss and is related to astiepan and bestiepan meaning "to bereave, to deprive of parents or children," originally from Proto-Germanic steupa, meaning "bereft." There's also a connection to Old High German stiof-, "pushed out." A curious thing to consider is also the Latin word for stepson, privignus, related to privus, "deprived." 

I guess stepmothers were doomed from the start. 

There's only short step from stepmother to witch, so let's do that next.

Witch, from Old English wicce, "female magician, sorceress," feminine of Old English wicca, "sorcerer," from verb wiccian, "to practice sorcery." Origins are uncertain, there are suggested connections to Old English wigle meaning "divination" and wig, wih meaning "idol". It might also represent Proto-Germanic wikkjaz, "necromacer," "one who wakes the dead." Did you know the word "witch" could originally refer to a man? The word "witchcraft" came from wiccræf, which meant "skilled with horses." "Witch" was also used to describe Egyptian midwives in an old translation of "Exodus." The connotation of old and ugly is from the 15th century, and the "a young woman of bewitching aspect" thing was first recorded in 1740. 

There's a few other words connected with "witch," gealdricge, "a woman who practices incantations," and scinlæce "female wizard, woman magician," origins from "phantom, evil spirit," and  Lybbestre was a fem. word meaning "sorceress," from lybb, "poison," all fascinating stuff. You can read more about them here

Let's do a few magical creatures:

I promised you "goblin", so here we go... Goblin, from Norman French gobelin, from Medieval French gobelinus, from a spirit haunting the region of Evreaux in chronicle of Ordericus Vitalis. Apparently unrelated to the German kobolt meaning "household spirit," it might be related to  Medieval Latin cabalus from Greek kobalus, "impudent rogue, knave" from kobaloi, "wicked spirits invoked by rogues."

What about the troll under the bridge? Maybe this one will have its roots here in Scandinavia? Ha, nailed it: troll, from Old Norse troll, "giant being not of the human race, monster, evil spirit."It seems to have been a general supernatural word, like the Swedish trolla "to charm, bewitch," or Old Norse trolldomr, "witchcraft."

Well, that's all for now. I suddenly have an overwhelming urge to watch Labyrinth again.

*sneaks off*


No comments:

Post a Comment

Hello, stranger. What's on your mind?