A Dictionary of the English Language
                        A Digital Edition of the 1755 Classic by Samuel Johnson
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Fairy (noun)

View Scan · View Transcription · from page 763

View Scan · View Transcription · from page 763

Fai'ry. n.s. [ꝼꞃhð, Saxon; fee, French.]

Ab ἔρα, terra, fit & ϝέρα Macedonum dialecto; unde ἔνεροι ἔνϝεροι, & Romanis inferi, qui Scoto-Saxonibus dicuntur feries, nostratiq; vulgo corruptius fairies, καταχθόνιοι δαίμονες, sive dii manes. Baxter's Glossary.

  1. A kind of fabled beings supposed to appear in a diminutive human form, and to dance in the meadows, and reward cleanliness in houses; an elf, a fay.

    Nan Page, my daughter, and my little son,
    And three or four more of their growth, we'll dress
    Like urchins, ouphes, and fairies, green and white,
    With rounds of waxen tapers on their heads,
    And rattles in their hands.
    Shakes. Merry Wives of Windsor.

    Then let them all encircle him about,
    And fairy like too pinch the unclean knight;
    And ask him, why, that hour of fairy revel,
    In their so sacred paths he dares to tread
    In shape prophane.
    . Shakesp. Merry Wives of Windsor.

    By the idea any one has of fairies, or centaurs, he cannot know that things, answering those ideas, exist. Locke.

    Fays, fairies, genii, elves, and demons hear. Pope.

  2. Enchantress. Warburton.

    To this great fairy I'll commend thy acts,
    Make her thanks bless thee.
    Shakes. Anth. and Cleopatra.

Sources: Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra (57) · Baxter, William (1) · Locke, John (269) · Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor (95) · Pope, Alexander (393) · Warburton, William (1)

Attributes: French (385) · Greek (126) · Latin (690) · Saxon (215)

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Cite this page: Johnson, Samuel. "Fairy (noun)." A Dictionary of the English Language: A Digital Edition of the 1755 Classic by Samuel Johnson. Edited by Brandi Besalke. Last modified: January 26, 2014. http://johnsonsdictionaryonline.com/?p=8647.


  1. Translation of the Baxter:

    Comes from ἔρα (era), earth, and ϝέρα (wera) in the Macedonian dialect; from whence ἔνεροι ἔνϝεροι (eneroi enweroi), and the Roman inferi [below], and which was spoken by our native Scoto-Saxons as feries; this was corrupted by the common people to fairies, καταχθόνιοι δαίμονες (kataxthonioi daimonesspirits from below), spirits of the deceased.

  2. Brandi on December 19th, 2011 at 1:41 pm
  3. Dear Brandi,

    By pure happenstance I came upon your etymology of Fairy (copied below) and was brought up short by the grating tautology of ‘from whence’. Perhaps I’m not the only one to point out this slip, but I couldn’t resist commenting on it – indeed, none of us are falable!

    Translation of the Baxter:

    Comes from ἔρα (era), earth, and ϝέρα (wera) in the Macedonian dialect; from whence ἔνεροι ἔνϝεροι (eneroi enweroi), and the Roman inferi [below], and which was spoken by our native Scoto-Saxons as feries; this was corrupted by the common people to fairies, καταχθόνιοι δαίμονες (kataxthonioi daimones – spirits from below), spirits of the deceased.

  4. James Alton on January 7th, 2012 at 9:51 am
  5. I find “from whence” to be more of a stylistic choice, and not a severe grammatical failing. It was not “a slip,” but language which I felt represented Baxter’s original 17th century Latin. I believe the only time when it is appropriate to comment on or question someone else’s use of language is when that language is unclear and clarification is needed to ascertain the intended meaning. For example, I could not find falable in the Oxford English Dictionary, and would like to know if you meant fallible or, as the “none” would suggest, infallible? I am a descriptivist, like Johnson was.

    Johnson personally shared your displeasure with “from whence,” as he called it “vitious,” but he still included it in the dictionary, because it appears in works written by good authors, and therefore is real English. It is English as it is used. Johnson quotes Spenser and Shakespeare, and the phrase can also be found in Defoe, Hobbes, Twain, and Dickens.

    Most important, though, is the fact that Johnson himself uses it, as can be seen here, in many of his etymologies. For example, in the entry Abbess, Johnson writes “Lat. abbatissa, from whence the Saxon abudisse.” For consistency, therefore, my use of it in translating the above etymology is appropriate.

  6. Brandi on January 7th, 2012 at 1:53 pm

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