Jack and the Beanstalk – A history in language
As grandparents you will all be aware of the story, Jack and the Beanstalk.
It is a timeless story which has been adapted into hundreds of books, movies and television programs.
Did you know who old it is, and what influence it has had on our language, though?
The First Jack and the Beanstalk Tale
The first recorded story of Jack in the Beanstalk is nearly 300 years old.
If first appeared as, “Jack and the Beanstalk” in 1784.
Then as, “The Story of Jack Spriggins and the Enchanted Bean” by Benjamin Tabart n 1807.
Since then the story has been reproduced hundreds of times, but the essence of the story has remained the same.
However, historians believe that the story is actually over 5,000 years old and is based on a folk story about a boy who stole an Ogre’s treasure.
Those Famous Lines
No line in fairytale history can evoke such a terrified response as:
Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman, Be he alive, or be he dead I’ll grind his bones to make my bread
Not surprising, this is a French addition to the story reflecting the checkered history the two countries have shared over the centuries.
However, the first line is more than just a repetition of great sounding nonsense words.
According to Charles Mackay in The Gaelic Etymology of the Languages of Western Europe it actually comes from ancient Gaelic.
It was used by the ancient Celts when referring to the invading Angles and Saxons. It is best translated as this:
Fa from faich (fa!) “behold!” or “see!”
Fe from Fiadh (fee-a) “food”;
Fi from fiú “good to eat”
Fo from fogh (fó) “sufficient” and
Fum from feum “hunger”.
Thus “Fa fe fi fo fum!” becomes “Behold food, good to eat, sufficient for my hunger!”
So, Jack and the Beanstalk is as blood thirsty as it sounds – Yikes!