• elf •
Pronunciation: elf • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A mythological fairy looking like a small person with pointy ears and a reputation for making mischief. We should not confuse elves with leprechauns and envision them in green suits like Will Ferrell in the movie Elf.
Notes: Much too rarely do we meet a word in English that is spelled exactly as it is pronounced. Today's Good Word is among those rarities. Remember, more than one elf are elves, though someone like an elf is elfish who may behave elfishly. Elvish is a language invented by J. R. R. Tolkien for his imaginative novels, such as Lord of the Rings. There is no evidence supporting the claim that elves actually spoke this language.
In Play: Although mythical, elves come in very handy, especially to children: "No, mommy, it wasn't me. A mischievous little elf came into my bedroom while I was asleep and spilled the milk on the floor." Today, North Americans more and more think in terms of elves making toys for Santa Claus: "Daddy, why do elves make toys that run on batteries but don't put batteries in them?"
Word History: We find root alb- "white" in Latin words like albino and albumin (egg white). It became elf in English, but in Old Norse it turned into alfr "elf", which English borrowed during one of the Norsemen's uninvited visits in the Middle Ages. English also converted it to oaf. The plural, elves, was sometimes spelled elvis in the past, a word adopted by his parents for the name of that large singing and gyrating elf, Elvis Presley.