Fairies are notoriously touchy, and are apt to turn nasty if anyone is foolhardy enough to call them by that name. Should you ever find yourself in their company, you would do well to shun the F word entirely and follow the example of earlier generations by using some form of apotropaic euphemism, such as ‘the good people’ – a standard formula, it appears, on the Isle of Man.
In Ireland, these beings have in earlier centuries been called na daoine uaisle (‘the noble people’ or ‘the gentry’) and na daoine maithe (again, ‘the good people’). In Wales they have been called tylwyth teg (‘the fair family’) and bendith y mamau (‘their mothers’ blessing’). The Scots have referred to the sluagh maith (yet again, ‘good people’), the good folk, the honest folk, the fair folk, the good neighbours, and so on. And Puck, still the most famous fairy in English literature, ahead of Tinker Bell, sometimes goes by the name of Robin Goodfellow.
Such traditional modes of sycophancy to supernatural forces will be immediately familiar to anyone who remembers that the Furies in the Oresteia are known as ‘the kindly ones’: you use flattering terms or you are destroyed. The fact that country people throughout these islands have all felt the