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The meaning of 'fair'- light or beautiful?

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The meaning of 'fair'- light or beautiful? Empty The meaning of 'fair'- light or beautiful?

Post Neon Knight on Thu 4 Jul - 0:53  Quoting:

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the fairest of them all? We all recognize the mantra of Snow White's evil stepmother. But what, exactly, is she asking? In the Grimm Brothers' German original, she asks who's the most beautiful in the land. But in English, it's a little more complicated.

An 1852 illustration shows Snow White's evil stepmother gazing into her magic mirror. Her famous question includes an ambiguous word: "fairest." On the one hand, fair is an archaic word for beautiful. But in modern usage, it usually refers to a light complexion – and it's hard to forget that we're talking about a story where the main character's claim to fame is that her skin is extraordinarily pale. Snow White isn't the only story where "beautiful" and "light-skinned" start to overlap . . . some of Shakespeare's most famous sonnets were directed to a "Fair Youth": Was he blonde, or just handsome?

But the meaning of "fair" wasn't always so blurry. The word is a cognate of Old Saxon fagar, meaning beautiful, pretty or peaceful. Since the days of the historian Bede, in the early 700s, it was used to mean good-looking. "Fair of body." "Fair of face." "Were any half so fair?" Good weather was fair, as was a pleasing sound or taste. It had no connection to any particular complexion; the counterpart of fair was foul, not dark.

It's hard to tell exactly when the meaning shifted to mean "pale" or "blonde" as well as beautiful; many sentences would make sense either way. But by 1499, when the Gesta Romanum mentioned an emperor with "ij doughtirs, one faire, a nother blak," the new meaning was clear. In that era, "black" often referred to brunettes. "Fair" clearly meant the opposite.

The conflation of beauty and paleness hardly came out of nowhere. Petrarch's Laura, the archetypal object of love poetry, was golden-haired. The idealized beauties of Renaissance paintings were alabaster-skinned (though the presence of people of color in medieval and Renaissance art shouldn't be ignored). And when Elizabethan women wore skin-lightening makeup, they were following a tradition hearkening back to the Roman era.

And one that continues today, for that matter. In the pursuit of fair skin, women of Shakespeare's time spread white lead and vinegar on their faces. Now, the word "fair" pops up frequently in skin-lightening products. Fair and Lovely. Fair and White. Fair and Flawless. Fashion Fair. "Fair" is the magical, alluring word — and in the pursuit of fairness, women risk serious damage to their skin and health.

Having one word that means both beautiful and pale makes a pretty obvious statement about Western beauty standards. But the meaning of "fair" goes even further – mixing goodness in as well. Essayist Autumn Whitefield-Madrano points out that at the same time "fair" was transitioning from beautiful to pale, it also came to carry more positive moral overtones – and "black" gained the meaning "dark purposes"
. . .

Fair/beautiful/good and black/not beautiful/evil – these aren't just linguistic quirks. They're cultural patterns . . . Today, black hair, eyes and skin do bear beauty's name — a fact we continue to celebrate. But they're still not counted fair.

The meaning of 'fair'- light or beautiful? Englan11

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Post Sary on Thu 4 Jul - 19:06

Fair enough.
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Post OsricPearl on Fri 5 Jul - 19:38

I think they mean both. Someone who is fair is both pale and beautiful. That is different from being dark and beautiful. I don't know if there is a term for that in English since it wasn't the preferred aesthetic.

In Spanish, "morena" means dark and can be also used to mean "dark and pretty." Prieta means dark, but it is independent of pretty (in fact, it seems to have an opposite connotation).  "Clara" means light, but it has a prettiness to it (it is closest to the English term Fair but it doesn't have any moral connotations). Blanca means white and is aesthetically neutral.

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