May 1st, 2002

Porcupine

Origin of the tooth fairy

This is a Norse one. The Vikings used the word "tannfe" (which in urban Norwegian means tooth fairy) about a gift that was given to a baby when it got its first tooth. It was the beginning of that person's property and had symbolic value. The old Norse word "fe" meant originally livestock, but was generally used about property. It is still used about livestock in New Norwegian, but in Danish it means fairy, and this reading has become prevalent in urban Norway too. Thus the tooth gift became the entity that gives tooth gifts, the tooth fairy. QED.

(The tradition was also remembered in the occupied English territories, with the name "tooth fee", but the concept of the Tooth Fairy seems to have caught on only in North America and is probably seeded by the many Scandinavian immigrants there.)