Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The fairy word for water

So, the day before yesterday I found out quite by chance when looking up something else* that according to the 12th century chronicler Gerald of Wales, the fairy's word for water was ydor and that for salt was halgein. He knew this because he'd talked to a man who in his youth had found the way into the land of the fairies. This young Elidyr had become friends with the fairies, until at his mother's urging he had stolen a golden ball, whereupon the fairies hid the entrance to their land so that he cd never find it again.

What interests me most about this story, other than the detail of two words in fairy-language,** is Gerald's investigative method. Rather than just rely on a rumor, he actually sought out Father Elidurus, who had been known as Elidyr in his youth, and got the story first-hand from him. So our researcher did his due diligence but it still produced what we may call a false positive.

--John R.
current reading: between books

*the 'something else' being the current struggle between celtomania and celtoscepticism
**shades of Rhys's ond and fern


ATMachine said...

I must inquire - who is Rhys, and what are the words of his you mentioned?

Andrew McCarthy (ATM)

John D. Rateliff said...

Dear ATM

To briefly sum up, from memory, a complicated topic:

SIr John Rhys was Oxford's first Professor of Celtic.* Tolkien once mentioned that he took the word OND = STONE from Rhys's 1884 book CELTIC BRITAIN. Rhys had given OND as one of the two** known words of Ivernian, the pre-Celtic language of Britain (and, if I'm remembering rightly, Ireland too).

Nowadays Celtic scholars think 'Ivernian', like Pictish, was itself Celtic.

I discuss Ivernian briefly in THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT, where I suggest that the Orc-name BOLG is also a likely borrowing from 'Ivernian'

--Hope this helps

--John R.

*I discuss him a good deal in my piece on NODENS

**the other being FERLY, which meant 'anything good'

ATMachine said...

Oh yes, "ond"! I was thrown briefly by the typo of "Ondor" in the post (the post-Ond, pre-Gondor name for "the South Kingdom" in Tolkien's drafts).

I did find Rhys' book on Google Books, and apparently the other "Ivernian" word he chronicled is actually spelled "fern". Not to be confused with Bill Ferny, whose surname suggests the alternative "foreign" meaning of Chaucer's "ferne halwes".