Sunday, December 11, 2005

Verbal pedigree ...

Reader Murray Wilson emails me in reference to a word I used in my review of Claire Harmon's Myself & the Other Fellow: A Life of Robert Louis Stevenson:

I checked your usage of "fey" on the internet and found only one dictionary
which gave it, which suggests it is quite new and not generally accepted.
What is its pedigree?

Turned out to be an interesting question. The word originally meant "fated to die." Then it started to morph, coming to mean "visionary" and "having a certain otherwordly air," then "a tad precious" and even "campy." Oddly, all of these senses could be applied to Stevenson, who was thought -- and thought himself to be -- fated to die young (which he did, though not for the reason anticipated), who had certain otherworldly air about him and could be -- even in his writing -- a tad precious. Harmon remarks that Stevenson's manner was "gay," though Stevenson himself was straight.

I thought fey worked, and my editor did not object.

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