Posted by: Jack Henry | August 11, 2020

Editor’s Corner: Fairy Tale Words

A few months ago, one of you suggested that I subscribe to the word of the day from I am sorry I don’t remember who sent me the email, but you were so right! I love this email. For a recent list, the week’s words are all derived from fairy tales! How can you go wrong with a seemingly sweet, yet horrible story like the paralyzed “Sleeping Beauty,” or the hunted “Hansel and Gretel”? You can’t! I’m dividing the list to provide you enough time to start using these terms wildly in your everyday home (or home office) life.

They have been around for thousands of years. They are called fairy tales, even though most don’t have any fairies. Nor do they have anything to do with fairs. The term comes to us from French conte de feés (fairy tales). French fairy tales apparently did include fairies.

A better term might be folk tales that include talking animals with a sprinkling of magic and enchantment. We have the term “fairy-tale ending” which implies a happily-ever-after, but what we have these days is really a sanitized version of the stories. Originally, fairy tales rarely had a fairy-tale ending, a reflection of hard life in those days.

After years of telling and retelling, these stories have left a mark on the language. Many of the characters have stepped out from the pages of the books and walked into the language.

§ Goldilocks

adjective: Just right; a happy medium; optimal; not at either extreme.


After Goldilocks, a golden-haired girl in the fairy tale “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”. In the story, she visits a bear house and chooses Baby Bear’s chair, bed, and porridge because they are just right. Papa Bear’s porridge is too hot, Mama Bear’s too cold, for example. Earliest documented use: 1949. The story was first published in 1837. The earliest documented use in the literal sense of the word is from 400 years earlier.

“Swirling around a red-dwarf star about 110 light-years away from Earth the distant world sits in a so-called Goldilocks zone—not close enough to its host star to be too hot and not far enough away to be too cold—that could allow liquid water to flow across its surface.”
Blue World; The Economist (London, UK); Sep 14, 2019.

§ Cinderella

1. One who deserves success or recognition, but instead suffers from neglect or obscurity.
2. One who achieves sudden triumph or recognition, especially after a long period of neglect or obscurity.


After Cinderella, the fairy-tale character who is mistreated by her stepmother and stepsisters. With a little help from a fairy godmother, she attends a royal ball thrown by a prince. Ultimately, she marries the prince and lives happily ever after. What’s behind the name Cinderella? It’s a pseudo-translation of the French name of the girl, Cendrillon, from cendre (cinder), perhaps an allusion to her day-to-day existence, tending to the fireplace and hearth, and as a result she has cinders all over her. It may also be a hint to the hidden spark in her otherwise dismal life. Earliest documented use: 1840.


“The Badgers are the Cinderella of the Final Four thanks to toppling a national championship winner.” Ben Steele; Sconnie Final Four Is Set; Green Bay Press Gazette (Wisconsin); Apr 1, 2020.

§ ugly duckling

noun: One that seems unattractive or unpromising at first but has great potential and later turns out to be quite attractive or successful.


From the protagonist of the story “The Ugly Duckling” by Hans Christian Andersen, in which a young bird believes himself to be a duck and is unhappy because he doesn’t look like a duck, only to later learn that (spoiler alert) he is a beautiful swan. Earliest documented use: 1877.


“Nearly every transport advocacy group in Melbourne bemoans a lack of investment in our bus network. The ugly duckling of the transport network, and a mode that fails to attract attention on the front pages of newspapers, it is perhaps the cheapest and most obvious way to tackle congestion.” Stuart James; Fork in Road for Public Transport Solutions; Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia); May 21, 2020.

I’m definitely looking forward to what the next couple of days bring. Who or what could it be?

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Editing: Symitar Documentation Services

Editor’s Corner Archives:

NOTICE: This electronic mail message and any files transmitted with it are intended
exclusively for the individual or entity to which it is addressed. The message,
together with any attachment, may contain confidential and/or privileged information.
Any unauthorized review, use, printing, saving, copying, disclosure or distribution
is strictly prohibited. If you have received this message in error, please
immediately advise the sender by reply email and delete all copies.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: