April 8, 2015

Case File #015.04.08: ELDRITCH

Although the adjective eldritch, meaning “weird, eerie, or ghostly,” has been in use since at least 1500, nobody really knows where it came from or how it originated. But that doesn't mean that there aren't a few theories being tossed around. Some lexicographers and etymologists suggest the word came about as a variant of the Scottish elphrish, which means “unearthly” or “inhabited by spirits” and is believed to be a descendant of the noun elf. (Incidentally, elf has been around since the days of Old English, and it is likely related to the same Proto-Indo-European root from which German developed the word alp, meaning “evil spirit” or “incubus.”) Other experts, however, propose that eldritch, as well as the Scottish elphrish, is the linguistic remnant of the unrecorded Middle English word elfriche, a compound meaning “fairyland” that was, they say, formed from elf and the Middle English riche (the latter meaning, of course, “land” or “realm”). And yet still others surmise that the adjective descended not from the now lost elfriche but from the unrecorded Middle English word elriche, which meant “unearthly” or “ghostly” and was itself, they claim, the descendant of another lost or unrecorded word: the Old English elrice, a noun that supposedly was formed by combining the Old English prefix el-, meaning “other,” and the Old English rice, meaning “realm” or “kingdom.”

©2015 Michael R. Gates

No comments:

Post a Comment