• leprechaun •Pronunciation: le-prê-kahn • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A mythical Irish elfin, one of the mischievous Little People of Irish folklore with a purse, the contents of which are given to anyone who catches him.
Notes: There are several spelling traps in this word, beginning with the second E, which is often miswritten as A. Next, look out for the CH, which is pronounced [k], and, finally, the AU, which might be pronounced [aw] in some dialects and [ah] in others. It's only spelled AU in all dialects. There is an adjective, should you see someone resembling one of the wee folk: leprechaunish "like a leprechaun".
In Play: We thought we would explore a word of Irish origin to wish everyone a happy St. Patrick's: "Twasn't me, mum, who broke the lamp, but a leaping laughing little leprechaun, who doesn't respect other people's property." The leprechauns do come out at night to figure in whatever mischief there is: "Well, doesn't he come home then in the wee small hours with that leprechaunish grin on his face?"
Word History: Nothing seems more Irish than the Gaelic word leprechaun, but lurking inside this word is a Latin borrowing that attests to the Catholic Church's influence on the language. The Irish Gaelic luprachán goes back to Old Irish luchorpán. This word is luchorp from lú- "small" + corp "body"—from Latin corpus "body" + -án, a diminutive suffix. The Gaelic lú "small" is a radically reduced form of PIE legwh- "light, having little weight", of which English light is a historical paronym. In Latin it emerged as levis "light" (as in levity) and in Russian lëgkiy "light". With a Fickle N, it also emerged in English as lungs, which are still called lights in some regions when applied to farm animals. Why is that, you ask? It's because they float to the surface of the water in the tub where the innards are being washed when a farm animal is slaughtered and cleaned.