The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #78750   Message #1421749
Posted By: Uncle_DaveO
26-Feb-05 - 04:44 PM
Thread Name: Acceptable adjectives in folk songs
Subject: RE: Acceptable adjectives in folk songs
Alanabit, you said:

I have always wondered about that phrase "pretty fair maid".

There are two meanings of "fair" here, that are distinct but historically related.

"Fair" may mean blonde, light-complexioned.
"Fair" may mean "pretty" or "beautiful".

At one time in England, (Saxon times, and even Norman times) the upper classes were indeed light of hair color, and the socially influenced standard of beauty leaned heavily on color of hair and skin. Thus "the brown girl" was not fair of color, and was not considered so beauteous, because of the social-standing meaning. The brown girl would be not only of the old, lower-class, pre-Saxon stock, but she had to work out in the sun and got tanned, which was a no-no for a lady then. The two concepts got somewhat separated over the years.

In the case of "pretty, fair", it doesn't mean (as we might mean by those words today) "sort of okay", but both pretty and a blonde.
That's why I put the comma in there when I entered it earlier in the thread: She's both pretty AND fair.

Dave Oesterreich