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Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Euphemisms for Fairies

 It's been a common practice for centuries to refer to fairies by euphemisms, terms that are intentionally more positive than the beings being referred to. I'm going to start a list here which I'll occasionally update of these terms and, where possible, the oldest known dates of their uses. This is a work in progress, if you have references to uses of any of these terms in specific dated works please share in the comments. 


Aes Sidhe [people of the fairy mounds, modern Aos Sidhe]  circa 7th-9th century Echtra Condla

Gáethshluagh [host of the wind] circa 13th century Accalam na Senórach

Túathgeinte [leftwards turning folk] circa 16th century O'Davoren's Glossary

Sidaige [dweller in a fairy mound] circa 16th century O'Davoren's Glossary

Daoine Sidhe [people of the fairy mounds]

Daoine Uaisle [Noble People]

Na Uaisle [the Gentry]

Na huaisle bheaga [the little gentry]

Uaisle na gcnoc [gentry of the hill]

Daoine Maithe [Good People] in use by 19th century/early 20th, ref.

Daoine Eile [Other People]

Slua Sí [fairy host] old or middle Irish Sidshlúag

An slua aerach [the host of the air]

An slua bheatha [the living host]

Slua bheatha na farraige [living host of the sea]

Slua sí an aeir [fairy host of the air]

Slua sí na spéire [fairy host of the sky]

Sióg [given as fairies, possibly sí + diminutive óg] probably 20th century^

Bunadh na gcnoc [people of the hills]

Cuid na gcnoc [part of the hills]

Dream na gcnoc [people of the hills]

An dream aerach [the people of the air]

An dream beag [the little people]

Lucht na mbearad dearg [people of the red caps]

An mhuintir bheag [the little family]

An bunadh beag  [the little people]

Bunadh beag na farraige [little people of the sea]

Daoine beaga [the little people]


Daoine Sith [people of the fairy hills or people of peace]

An Sluagh [fairy host]

Sleagh Maith [good people] ref 1691 rev Kirk


Gude nichtbouris [good neighbours] ref 1585 the Flyting Between Montgomerie and Polwart

Subterranean ref 1691 rev Robert Kirk

Fairfolkis, fairy folk, ffair folk  ref 1518 Douglas's Aenid translation; 1576 Ancient Criminal Trials in Scotland from AD 1488 to AD 1624

Gude Wichtis/Gude Wichts [good beings] ref 1576 Criminal Trials

Seelie Wicht [blessed being] as 'celly vichtys' 1564, William Hay; as 'sillyie wichts' 1572 Criminal Trials

Seelie Court [blessed company] 1783 ballad of Alison Gross

Seily Queen ref 1827 Crawfurd's Collection v II, A Fairie Sang

Unseelie Court** [unholy company] ref. 1819 Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany vol 84 

Gentrie ref 1827 Crawfurds Collection v II, notes on 'A Fairie Sang'


Tylwyth Teg/Tylwythen Deg [Fair Family] ref in the 12th century by Giraldus Cambrensis

Plant Annwn [children of the Otherworld]

Bendith Y Mamau [Mother's Blessing]


Guillyn Veggey [little boys]

Vooinjer Veggey/Dooiney Veggey [little people]~

Little Fellows


Les bonnes dames [the good ladies]
Le peuple de la paix [the people of peace]
Les douces [the sweet ones]
Les petites dames des futaies [the little ladies of the tall trees]
Les bienveillantes [the benevolents]
Les fileuses de destin [the spinners of destiny]
Les exquises marraines [the exquisite godmothers]


Little People ref 1726

Wee Folk ref 1819 

Fairy (suggested as possible euphemism imported from French to avoid saying elves^^^)


Pulchrum Populum [fair folk] ref 1586 Bromyard Summa Predicantium (originally 14th century text)


Gentle Folk


Honest Folk ref 1908 Simpson Folk Lore in Lowland Scotland

Hill Folk ref 1908 Simpson

Silently Moving People, ref 1900 Campbell, Gaelic Otherworld

Still Folk ref 1900 Campbell




Grey Neighbours (Orkney)


Shining Ones

The Honest Folk (Scotland, ref Henderson)

The Forgetful People (Scotland, ref Henderson)

The Restless People (Scotland, ref Henderson)

*with thanks to Shane Broderick for many of the Irish terms. English translations and any errors in translating my own

^ per discussion with Shane Broderick

**Technically not a euphemism, as it is a negative term

~ related by Adam Cain via Twitter, 5/22

^^ thanks to Allie Valkyrie for the French terms and translations

***the Latin here was used by an English writer and in my opinion reflects English euphemism of the time

^^^  suggested by prof Ronald Hutton in a lecture 'Traditional Fairies' 21/9/21


Henderson & Cowan (2007) Scottish Fairy Belief

1908 Simpson Folk Lore in Lowland Scotland

1900 Campbell, Gaelic Otherworld

1586 Bromyard Summa Predicantium

12th century by Giraldus Cambrensis

1585 the Flyting Between Montgomerie and Polwart

Crawfurds Collection v II, notes on 'A Fairie Sang', 1827

1819 Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany vol 84

1518 Douglas's Aenid translation; 1576 Ancient Criminal Trials in Scotland from AD 1488 to AD 1624

1576 Criminal Trials

 1564, William Hay; as 'sillyie wichts' 1572 Criminal Trials

1783 ballad of Alison Gross

Echtra Condla

 Accalam na Senórach

O'Davoren's Glossary

Robert Kirk, 1691, The Secret Commonwealth of Elves Fauns and Fairies


  1. 'But gin ye ca' me seelie wicht,
    I'll be your freend baith day and nicht.'
    Chambers, Robert. Popular Rhymes of Scotland : Original Poems. 3rd Ed., with Additions. ed. Edinburgh: W. & R. Chambers, 1858. Select Writings of Robert Chambers. Web.

    1. And from the same source:
      'The fairies are said to have been exceedingly sensitive
      upon the subject of their popular appellations. They con-
      sidered the term ' fairy ' disreputable ; and are thought to
      have pointed out their approbation and disapprobation of
      the other phrases applied to them in the following verses : —
      Gin ye ca' me imp or elf,
      I rede ye look weel to yourself ;
      Gin ye ca' me fairy,
      I'll work ye muckle tan-ie ;f
      Gin guid neibor ye ca' me,
      Then guid neibor I will be'

  2. 1621 Burton, Robert. The anatomy of melancholy "subterranean Devils , beside those Fairies , Satires [satyrs] , Nymphs , etc."

  3. I always say "our good friends".