Cinderella, vair or verre?

Les pantouffles de Cendrillon, sont-elles fait de verre (comme l’écrit Perrault) ou de vair, la fourrure de l’écureuil petit-gris, comme l’ont affirmé Balzac et Littré ? Wikipédia est assez exhaustive sur ce sujet…

On Language Log, Mark Liberman tackles the thorny question whether Cinderella’s slippers were made of glass (verre in Perrault’s French version, which Disney based their version on and thus re-popularised the fairy tale in the English-speaking world) or the fur of the grey squirrel (vair). The two terms are homophonous in French. Eggcorn or no eggcorn ?

I happen to have posted about the subject last December in the Usenet group soc.motss, and, unlike Mark, came to the conclusion that “glass” is probably not an error.

Below I reproduce my post. A few things to keep in mind:

  1. Perrault’s version is by no means the original of the story. He was, like the Grimm brothers who came later, a collector and editor.
  2. The French Wikipédia entry claims that vair, although a precious clothing material, was not used in shoe-making.
  3. Vair is indeed a current, if rare and specialised, French word.
  4. If verre is indeed what was intended by Perrault, I doubt the change to vair was a mishearing — I’d opt for a kind of learned hypercorrection.

On Dec 29, 2005, Chris Ambidge enquired about a potential French eggcorn

as I recall, Cinderella’s unusual footwear comes from a mistake (possibly an eggcorn, but I leave the diagnosis to experts). The original tale, as told in French, has Cinderella’s slipper made of fur - “vair”. Someone misheard that and wrote that her slipper was “verre” - glass.

and asked for opinions on the subject. He also wondered about the concept of dancing in slippers. I replied the next day:

It doesn’t look like it; rather, this seems to be a case of erudition run wild. Balzac’s and Littré’s (a nineteenth-century man of letters, author of an important dictionary), to be precise. They stipulated the verre/vair confusion. But “pantouffles de verre” (though in various spellings) are in Perrault’s tale, and also in Catalan, Irish and Scottish versions. The Grimm brothers’ has golden slippers — not much better than glass, I’d think, to dance in all night. Wikipedia tells me that there are over 400 versions from all over the world, the oldest from China. (Disney used Perrault, by the way, so the glass slippers became a feature of the story most English-speaking children get to know best.)

As for “slippers”, the French “pantouffles” isn’t what you’d use to refer to dancing shoes either, nowadays. “Vair” is the fur of a grey squirrel, btw.

Will we clear this up to everyone’s satisfaction?

2 comment(s) for 'Cinderella, vair or verre?'

  1. (Comment, 2006-02-28 19:23 )
    #1 — T. Guillemin

    (Perrault unfortunately had not met Disney)
    cf.: this

  2. (Trackback, 2006-02-28 21:49 )

    Cinderella’s slippers: glass, squirrel or amber?

    Mark Liberman wonders whether Cinderella slipped two dead squirrels round her tootsy-toes that night, while Chris Waigl does not. I think glass is a reasonable interpretation, although it may not have been the material used.

    DH Green (Language and …