How a furry tale became a fairy tale

A slipper lost in translation

The Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins calls Cinderella's glass slipper "the most horrendous mistranslation in literary history." Linguist Joseph Shipley calls it "the fate of a forgotten word." They are not alone.

Most scholars, including the great 19th-century French novelist Honore de Balzac, affirm that the original phrase describing the fated shoe was pantoufle en vair, a little slipper of fur. The vair came from miniver, a spotted white fur used for trimming royal garments.

However, vair had fallen into disuse at about the time Charles Perrault's fairy tale was widely translated, and the furry shoe became a pantoufle en verre (same sound), a glass slipper. The Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins calls it "a charming slip" that may, after all, have fit the fragile romance even better.

In cahoots, and into fur

"Cahoots" derives from the French-Canadian cahute, meaning cabin or hut, and was first recorded in 1820. The expression came from American fur trappers who met up with French trappers along the northern frontier. These hunters would often winter together in the same woods cabin, as they were partners in the trade, and therefore "in cahoots."

SOURCES: The Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, by Robert Hendrickson; The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology, by Robert K. Barnhart; 'Loose Cannons and Red Herrings,' by Robert Claiborne; 'Heavens to Betsy!' by Charles Earl Funk; 'Folk-Etymology, a Dictionary of Verbal Corruptions,' by A. Smythe Palmer; Dictionary of Word Origins, by Joseph T. Shipley; Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology; Dictionary of True Etymologies, by Adrian Room; A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, by Ernest Klein; Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, by Walter W. Skeat; Brewer's Dictionary of Prose and Fable, by Ivor H. Evans.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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