September 2, 2015

Case File #015.09.02: LEPRECHAUN

In Irish folklore, a leprechaun is a mischievous sprite or goblin that resembles a little old man, so it should come as no surprise that the word leprechaun is often said to literally mean “tiny person.” The noun evolved from the Old Irish luchorpán, a compound formed from the adjective lu, which meant “little,” and the diminutive form of the noun corp, which meant “body” and was itself an altered borrowing of the Latin corpus. As Old Irish transitioned to Middle Irish in the tenth century and, in turn, Middle Irish gave way to Classical Irish (aka Early Modern Irish) in the thirteenth century, luchorpán underwent metathesis and became lupracán, and this made its way into the English lexicon as lubrican circa 1605. The contemporary English form leprechaun didn't come into use until around 1860, but most etymologists believe that its modern Irish cognate, leipreachán (sometimes taking the form leipracán or lioprachán), appeared much earlier and thus influenced the nineteenth-century English alteration.

©2015 Michael R. Gates

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