fairy

/fair"ee/, n., pl. fairies, adj.
n.
1. (in folklore) one of a class of supernatural beings, generally conceived as having a diminutive human form and possessing magical powers with which they intervene in human affairs.
2. Slang (disparaging and offensive). a male homosexual.
adj.
3. of or pertaining to fairies: fairy magic.
4. of the nature of a fairy; fairylike.
5. See fairy green.
[1250-1300; ME faierie < OF: enchantment, fairyland. See FAY1, -ERY]
Syn. 1. pixy, leprechaun. FAIRY, BROWNIE, ELF, SPRITE are terms for imaginary beings usually less than human size, thought to be helpful or harmful to people. FAIRY is the most general name for such beings: a good fairy as a godmother; misadventures caused by an evil fairy. A BROWNIE is a good-natured tiny being who appears usually at night to do household tasks: Perhaps the brownies will come and mow the lawn tonight. ELF suggests a young, mischievous or roguish fairy: That child is a perfect little elf. SPRITE suggests a fairy of pleasing appearance, older than an elf, to be admired for ease and lightness of movement; it may, however, be impish or even hostile: a dainty sprite.

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In folklore, any of a race of supernatural beings who have magic powers and sometimes meddle in human affairs.

Some have been described as of human size, while others are "little people" only a few inches high. The term was first used in medieval Europe. Fairy lore is especially common in Ireland, Cornwall, Wales, and Scotland. Though usually beneficent in modern children's stories, the fairies of the past were powerful and sometimes dangerous beings who could be friendly, mischievous, or cruel, depending on their whim. Fairies were thought to be beautiful, to live much longer than human beings, and to lack souls. They sometimes carried off human infants and left changelings as substitutes. They occasionally took human lovers, but to enter fairyland was perilous for humans, who were obliged to remain forever if they ate or drank there. See also leprechaun.

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also spelled  faerie  or  faery 

      a mythical being of folklore and romance usually having magic powers and dwelling on earth in close relationship with humans. It can appear as a dwarf creature typically having green clothes and hair, living underground or in stone heaps, and characteristically exercising magic powers to benevolent ends; as a diminutive sprite commonly in the shape of a delicate, beautiful, ageless winged woman dressed in diaphanous white clothing, inhabiting fairyland, but making usually well-intentioned intervention in personal human affairs; or as a tiny, mischievous, and protective creature generally associated with a household hearth.

      While the term fairy goes back only to the Middle Ages in Europe, analogues to these beings in varying forms appear in both written and oral literature, from the Sanskrit gandharva (semidivine celestial musicians) to the nymphs of Greek mythology and Homer, the jinni of Arabic mythology, and similar folk characters of the Samoans, of the Arctic peoples, and of other indigenous Americans. The common modern depiction of fairies in children's stories represents a bowdlerization of what was once a serious and even sinister folkloric tradition. The fairies of the past were feared as dangerous and powerful beings who were sometimes friendly to humans but could also be cruel or mischievous.

      Fairies are usually conceived as being characteristically beautiful or handsome and as having lives corresponding to those of human beings, though longer. They have no souls and at death simply perish. They often carry off children, leaving changeling substitutes, and they also carry off adults to fairyland, which resembles pre-Christian abodes of the dead. People transported to fairyland cannot return if they eat or drink there. Fairy and human lovers may marry, though only with restrictions whose violation ends the marriage and, often, the life of the human. Some female fairies are deadly to human lovers. Fairies are said to be of human size or smaller, down to a height of 3 inches (7.5 cm) or less. Female fairies may tell fortunes, particularly prophesying at births and foretelling deaths. Several herbs, especially St.-John's-wort (Saint-John's-wort) and yarrow, are potent against fairies, and hawthorn trees, foxglove, and groundsel are so dear to them that abuse of these plants may bring retribution.

      Fairy lore is particularly prevalent in Ireland, Cornwall, Wales, and Scotland. Fairies are common in literature from the Middle Ages on and appear in the writings of the Italians Matteo Boiardo and Ludovico Ariosto, the English poet Edmund Spenser, the Frenchman Charles Perrault, and the Dane Hans Christian Andersen, among others.

Additional Reading
A good account of the fairies of Great Britain is Katharine Briggs, A Dictionary of Fairies (also published as An Encyclopedia of Fairies, 1976).

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Universalium. 2010.

Synonyms:

Look at other dictionaries:

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  • Fairy — Fair y, n.; pl. {Fairies}. [OE. fairie, faierie, enchantment, fairy folk, fairy, OF. faerie enchantment, F. f[ e]er, fr. LL. Fata one of the goddesses of fate. See {Fate}, and cf. {Fay} a fairy.] [Written also {fa[ e]ry}.] 1. Enchantment;… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

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