New Research Shows That the Word Leprechaun Has Latin Roots

Tim Boyle/Newsmakers
Tim Boyle/Newsmakers

For the last five years, a team of researchers from Cambridge University and Queen’s University Belfast have meticulously combed through manuscripts dating all the way back to the 6th century in order to revise an online dictionary of medieval Irish. In addition to discovering about 500 previously lost words, they also unearthed new etymological information about a word you definitely already know: leprechaun.

According to BBC News, the scholars believe leprechaun, from the Irish leipreachán, isn’t an Irish original. Based on their research, it’s derived from Luperci, the Latin word for a group of priests who celebrated an ancient Roman festival called Lupercalia, which took place on February 15. Though we don’t exactly know the origin of Lupercalia, it’s thought to have included a purification ritual that involved swimming. After an animal sacrifice (and a few other weird activities), two possibly naked boys would run through the city streets whipping women with thongs made from the skin of the sacrificial animal, which was said to increase fertility.

The first known leprechaun appearance in Irish literature was in a folktale from the Middle Ages in which Fergus mac Léti, the King of Ulster, awakens from a seaside nap to leprechauns trying to drag him into their underwater abode—suggesting that leprechauns are water-dwellers. Maybe the Irish storytellers who originated that fable broadly interpreted the purification theme from Lupercalia to be more literally related to water. Or, maybe the element of Lupercalia they co-opted for their Irish mascot was the idea of small people (specifically male) causing mischief in the streets, which pretty calls to mind our current conception of leprechauns as tiny tricksters.

Either way, the revelation about leprechauns’ Latin roots is a nod to the project’s success in enriching our knowledge of the Irish language, from which English has borrowed more than you might realize. And, as Greg Toner of Queen’s University Belfast told BBC News, about one third of the online dictionary’s 20,000 monthly visitors are from the U.S.

“A key aim of our work has been to open the dictionary up, not only to students of the language but to researchers working in other areas such as history and archaeology, as well as to those with a general interest in medieval life,” he told BBC News.

You can explore the dictionary here.

[h/t BBC News]

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Wayfair
Wayfair

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More Than 650 New Words Have Been Added to Dictionary.com—Here Are 50 of Them

Online dictionaries can add words a little more quickly than their printed counterparts.
Online dictionaries can add words a little more quickly than their printed counterparts.
Pisit Heng, Pexels

Back in April, Dictionary.com updated its lexicon with a number of terms that had sprung up seemingly overnight, including COVID-19, novel coronavirus, and even rona. Now, as a testament to just how fast language evolves, the online dictionary has added 650 more.

Though the terms aren’t all quite as new as rona, they’ve all recently become prevalent enough to warrant their own dictionary entries. And they’re not all related to public health crises, either. New slang includes amirite, a truncated version of Am I right?; and zhuzh, a verb meaning “to make (something) more lively and interesting, stylish, or appealing, as by a small change or addition” (it can also be used as a noun).

There’s a handful of phrases that describe pets used for service or therapy—assistance animal, comfort animal, and emotional support animal, among others—and a couple that help capture the sometimes bizarre landscape of modern parenting. Sharent, a portmanteau of share and parent, refers to the act of chronicling your child’s life on social media (or a parent who does it); and extravagant methods of publicly announcing an unborn baby’s gender are now so widespread that gender reveal is a dictionary-recognized term. Some terms address racist behaviors—whitesplain and brownface, for example—while others reflect how certain people of color describe their specific ethnicities; Afro-Latina, Afro-Latino, and Afro-Latinx each have an entry, as do Pinay, Pinoy, and Pinxy.

In addition to the new entries, Dictionary.com has also added 2100 new definitions to existing entries and revised another 11,000 existing definitions—making it the site’s largest update ever. Black in reference to ethnicity is now a separate entry from the color black, and lexicographers have also combed through the dictionary to capitalize Black wherever it appears in other entries. They’ve also replaced homosexuality—now often considered an outdated clinical term with a negative connotation—with gayness in other entries, and addict with a person addicted to or a habitual user of. In short, people are constantly making language more inclusive and sensitive, and Dictionary.com is working to represent those changes in the dictionary.

Take a look at 50 of Dictionary.com’s new words and phrases below, and learn more about the updates here.

  1. Af
  1. Afro-Latina
  1. Afro-Latino
  1. Afro-Latinx
  1. Agile development
  1. Amirite
  1. Assistance animal
  1. Battle royale
  1. Bombogenesis
  1. Brownface
  1. Cap and trade
  1. Comfort animal
  1. Community management
  1. Companion animal
  1. Conservation dependent
  1. Conservation status
  1. Contouring
  1. Critically endangered
  1. DGAF
  1. Dunning-Kruger effect
  1. Ecoanxiety
  1. Emissions trading
  1. Emotional labor
  1. Emotional support animal
  1. Empty suit
  1. Extinct in the wild
  1. Filipinx
  1. Filipina
  1. Gender reveal
  1. GOAT
  1. Hodophobia
  1. Information bubble
  1. Ish
  1. Jabroni
  1. Janky
  1. MeToo
  1. Natural language processing
  1. Nothingburger
  1. Off-grid
  1. Pinay
  1. Pinoy
  1. Pinxy
  1. Ratio
  1. Sharent
  1. Swole
  1. Techlash
  1. Therapy animal
  1. Whitesplain
  1. World-building
  1. Zhuzh