Fairy

Fairy, Faery, Faerie, Fae, Fay, Fey are usually used interchangeably nowadays, especially among the neo-pagan population, but this wasn’t always so. Here are the older definitions attributed to these words, I won’t get into their natures and appearance here.

From Fairy – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The word fairy derives from Middle English faierie (also fayerye, feirie, fairie), a direct borrowing from Old French faerie (Modern French féerie) meaning the land, realm, or characteristic activity (i.e. enchantment) of the legendary people of folklore and romance called (in Old French) faie or fee (Modern French fée). This derived ultimately from Late Latin fata (one of the personified Fates, hence a guardian or tutelary spirit, hence a spirit in general); cf. Italian fata, Portuguese fada, Spanish hada of the same origin…

…To the word faie was added the suffix -erie (Modern English -(e)ry), used to express either a place where something is found (fishery, heronry, nunnery) or a trade or typical activity engaged in by a person (cookery, midwifery, thievery). In later usage it generally applied to any kind of quality or activity associated with a particular sort of person, as in English knavery, roguery, witchery, wizardry.

Faie became Modern English fay “a fairy”; the word is, however, rarely used, although it is well known as part of the name of the legendary sorceress Morgan le Fay of Arthurian legend. Faierie became fairy, but with that spelling now almost exclusively referring to one of the legendary people, with the same meaning as fay. In the sense “land where fairies dwell”, the distinctive and archaic spellings Faery and Faerie are often used. Faery is also used in the sense of “a fairy”, and the back-formation fae, as an equivalent or substitute for fay is now sometimes seen.

The word fey, originally meaning “fated to die” or “having forebodings of death” (hence “visionary”, “mad”, and various other derived meanings) is completely unrelated, being from Old English fæge, Proto-Germanic *faigja- and Proto-Indo-European *poikyo-, whereas Latin fata comes from the Indo-European root *bhã- “speak”. Due to the identical pronunciation of the two words, “fay” is sometimes misspelled “fey”.

From Fairy – Online Etymology Dictionary

c.1300, fairie, “enchantment, magic,” from O.Fr. faerie “land of fairies, meeting of fairies, enchantment, magic,” from fae “fay,” from L. fata (pl.) “the Fates,” from PIE *bha- “to speak” (see fame). As “a supernatural creature” from late 14c.

From Faerie – Online Etymology Dictionary

supernatural kingdom, “Elfland,” c.1300, from O.Fr. fairie; see fairy.

From Fay – Online Etymology Dictionary

“fairy,” late 14c., from O.Fr. fae (12c., Mod.Fr. fée), from V.L. *fata “goddess of fate,” fem. sing of L. fata (neut. pl.), lit. “the Fates” (see fate).

From Fey – Online Etymology Dictionary

“of excitement that presages death,” from O.E. fæge “doomed to die, fated, destines,” also “timid, feeble;” and/or from O.N. feigr, both from P.Gmc. *faigjo- (cf. O.S. fegi, O.Fris. fai, M.Du. vege, M.H.G. veige “doomed,” also “timid,” Ger. feige “cowardly”), from PIE *peig- “evil-minded, hostile” (see foe). Preserved in Scottish. Sense of “displaying unearthly qualities” and “disordered in the mind (like one about to die)” led to modern ironic sense of “affected.”

From An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies and Other Supernatural Creatures by Katharine Briggs

The word “fairy” itself is a late one, not used before medieval times and sometimes then with the meaning of mortal women who had acquired magical powers. The French fai, of which “fairy” is an extension, came originally from the Italian fatae, the fairy ladies who visited the household at births and pronounced the future of the baby, as the three fates used to. “Fairy” originally meant fai-erie, a state of enchantment, and was transferred from the object to the agent.

These sources match well. Here we see the use of the word FAIRY is equivalent to FAERIE as well as FAERY and means the land or realm, the place where they live, but is also used to denote the enchantment or magic of the fair folk. So it is used as a place or activity.

It appears that FAY and FAE are also used interchangeably to denote one of the species. A single spirit or creature.

In terms of the race itself I didn’t find a conclusion. It seems that FAIRY, FAERIE, FAERY, FAY, and FAE can all be used for this. However, this is most likely a modern use.

FEY seems to be the exception as it’s meaning is specific and separate from the others. It is used to describe a sense of other-worldliness as well as meaning fated to die.

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