Printable Version
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, though they often appear in green suits like Will Ferrell in the movie Elf.

Notes: ElfMuch 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 the root of albus "white" in Latin words like albino and albumin (egg white). Latin inherited its word from PIE albho- "white", source also of Greek alphos "white rash", and Dutch elft "allis shad". Metathesis turned it into lebed' in Russian, labut' in Czech, and labud in Serbian—all meaning "swan". It became elf in English for some unknown reason, 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 converted this word to oaf. The plural of elf, elves, was spelled elvis in Scotland in the 17th century, a word adopted by his parents for the name of that gyrating singing star, Elvis Presley.

Dr. Goodword,

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