I though “fey” was another term for “fairy/elf/Old One”, as in “Morgan Le Fay”. Does that use precede or antecede the “imminent death” meaning? Or am I confusing two similar-sounding words?
Looks like you’re confusing two similar words.
According to WWWebster Dictionary, the two words are unrelated, ‘Fey’ (Doomed) coming from Old German via Middle English, whereas ‘Fay’ (Fairy) comes from French.
Fay: http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?book=Dictionary&va=fay (The meaning in question is the 3rd.)
‘They couldn’t hit an Elephant from this dist…!’
Last words of General John Sedgwick
I wondered about that, because I realized as I was writing it that it was spelled differently. I know spelling was somewhat casual when these words were in common usage, but still…
‘Fay’ is spelt ‘fée’ in modern French.
I dunno. Why surprise that “fey” means “doomed” yet is only now used for seeming milder expressions like fey charm or fey smile?
It would be to presuppose that irony is only a recent invention, and our ancestors had no senses of humor.
We are relatively more ignorant than those ancestors, most of us having never seen someone smiling at former friends and neighbors on his way up a gallows stairs. Certainly that’s where a “fey smile” would have been spotted commonly.
Otherwise the phrase in its hard-core meaning
precisely fits the description of common emotional reactions in just about any workaday building where someone is trying to show his boss he is pleased with a given opportunity to earn brownie points for anything.
Additional factors may be “fairy” (English slang for homosexual) and “fayguleh” (Yiddish slang for homosexual – literally “birdy”).
John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams