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The Etymology of “Eldritch”

March 12, 2013

A quick follow up to my in-class bit of armchair etymology:

Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (which is the most complete dictionary I can find at the moment) suggests the sources of “eldritch” are the Old English (Anglo-Saxon) words “aelf” + “rich,” meaning something like “fairyland” but notes that the etymology is “assumed” (p. 730). Anyone have something better to go on? Note that the word is sometimes spelled “eldrich” or “elritch,” though my spell-checker doesn’t like any of these options.

By the way, I assume the character Elric of Melniboné’s name is meant to evoke the word “eldritch,” but I’m really not sure about that either. Though the Elric stories don’t quite count as science fiction (and never manage to make to into film), they seem to be a favorite of some sci-fi writers and end up getting shout outs in (cheesy but fun) shows like Babylon 5. They also get a lot of play from metal bands. Which is weird, but what the hell, right?

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