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Well, these are three adjectives for "something from the elves". But I'm spanish and in my language there's only one adjective for these (élfico), and I can't understand what's the difference.

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Which elves are you referring to? Santa, Tolkien, Blizzard... –  MrHen May 5 '11 at 15:48
    
@MrHen: I hope he means Tolkien's... Or Blizzard's, at least. :D –  Alenanno May 5 '11 at 15:51
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@MrHen : There's a linguistic difference among different kinds of elves? Perhaps that's the answer. –  theist May 5 '11 at 15:55
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@Theist: Yes, believe it or not. Unfortunately, I do not have the time to go look them up. The answer is essentially, "Find out what the relevant fictional world uses and use that." Elfen/elven/elvish fans can get pretty touchy about their terms. –  MrHen May 5 '11 at 15:57
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Note that I don't believe "elfic" is an English word. Were you thinking of "elfin", maybe? –  Marthaª May 5 '11 at 16:27

6 Answers 6

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Okay, here goes: Etymonline's comments on elf reveal usage from the 1550s and stemming from the words elf, ælf, ylf. The plural mentioned there is "elves" which would match the traditional pluralization of lf: shelves; wolves. Unfortunately, there is no word for wolven so that doesn't help us much.

The same site does have an entries for elven:

elven - O.E. ælfen; see elf) [sic] + -en (2). Apparently obsolete until revived by Tolkien.

And elfin:

elfin - 1590s, from elf; first found in Spenser, who may have been thinking of elven but the word also is a proper name in the Arthurian romances (Elphin).

And elfish:

elfish - c.1200, alvisc; see elf + -ish.

Tolkien's usage of elven strongly implies that this is the appropriate term for his elves. The c.1200 usage of elfish seems appropriate for mythological or physical references to elves (his ears are elfish; their attitude is elfish).

(Edit per Martha's comment): That being said, Elvish is also the Tolkien proper term for their group of languages with the prime examples being Quenya and Sindarin.

As far as non-Tolkien usage, WoWWiki consistently uses elven in their article on Elves. Dungeons and Dragons appear to use elven for the language and adjective. Other fictional universes could easily vary. It would be best to check with their experts.

The summary: Elvish for physical attributes or mythological references; elven for Tolkien and most other fictional universes. Elfic is unused in English and not advisable.

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To me, Elvish means the language of Tolkien's elves, and other Tolkien-wannabe universes' elves (D&D, Dragonlance, etc.). Standard spelled-with-an-f elves are not usually depicted as having their own language, so elfish doesn't really have the language connotation. I still prefer elfin, just to avoid ambiguity. –  Marthaª May 5 '11 at 17:27
    
@Martha: Good point; added. In random trivia, someone in the circle of friends where I live named their daughter Elfin. I thought it odd. –  MrHen May 5 '11 at 18:11
    
Poor child. Couldn't the parents at least have spelled it as Elphin? –  Marthaª May 5 '11 at 19:12
    
Thanks!. Sorry about the "Elfic" stuff, a bit more of research (googling) about the word reveal that many of the ocurrences of that word were from hispanic sources. Perhaps is some kind of miss concept deeply fixed on spanish minds. But I didn't know elfin either! –  theist May 6 '11 at 6:09

The spelling with 'v' for dwarves and elves is from Tolkien.

I suspect (but am not remotely geeky enough to know) that he used the different spelling to give his imaginations a distinct identity compared to santa's little helpers

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Your avatar is cut from an xkcd cartoon, you're pretty geeky ;-) –  Joachim Sauer May 5 '11 at 16:18
    
But not enough to read The Silmarillion! Interestingly there is a very strong correlation between this site and stackoverflow - of all the non-computer SE sites this one has the largest population of programmers –  mgb May 5 '11 at 16:27
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programmers are notoriously picky about languages. Both kinds. –  Joachim Sauer May 5 '11 at 16:28
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@TimLymington - although the PC term is probably BORG (Barbarian Of Restricted Growth) –  mgb Jul 28 '11 at 15:55
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@tchrist - But the popular usage is due to Tolkien. He deliberately used old english and anglo-saxon versions -= that was rather the point of writing the stuff,. –  mgb Oct 17 '12 at 4:00

I think the two are commonly used interchangeably, but I think this is the difference.

If something is elfin it is "of, or relating to or made by an elf"

These shoes are elfin.

Something is elfish if it has characteristics of an elf.

Tom is short, and very mischievous. He is elfish.

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Not to be confused with Tom keeping everything for himself, or Tom the crab ;-) –  Matt Эллен May 5 '11 at 17:20
    
Tom is arguably Maiarish. –  Edwin Ashworth Oct 16 '12 at 23:54

If I were writing, and I often do, I would never use 'elfic' for anything. But that is entirely due to my own prejudices.

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Seconded. In full. –  The Raven May 5 '11 at 17:57
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Thirded. I'm not even sure about elfin when you specifically want to invoke actual elves. To me, elfin bypasses the elves themselves to conjure up images of 'real' people like Liza Minnelli. –  FumbleFingers May 6 '11 at 16:55

I don't think there is a word, elfic. You may be referring to the Old English (OE) ælfisc.

The words elfen, elfin, and elven are all spelling variations of the same word and when used as an adjective (or noun), can be swapped at will with no loss of meaning.

The root word is elf (from OE ælf), plural is elves. (Mark the f to v!)

After that, it gets twisted.

From OE, the original adjective was elfish (OE ælfisc).

In OE there was also elfen (plural was elfenne) ... a female elf, a nymph. That morphed in an adjective in Middle English with the original sense of feminine, child-like. It was also spelled elfin and elven.

During this time we also see the 'n' drop and a female elf is an elfe ... with the plural of elfen! Confused yet?

Naturally, if you have elfe, there is a spelling variation of elve (f to v)... with the plural of elven.

There are also compounds like elfsheen (adj. - supernaturally beautiful, noun - supernatural beauty).

So if you're keeping count: There is only one male form: elf. (However, you can also call a female elf, an elf.)
There are four possible adjective forms: elfish, elfin, elfen, and elven.
There are five possible female forms: elfe, elve, elfin, elfen, and elven.

It's little wonder that folks are befuddled!

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Elfin- Something from elves Elven- Elf like Note: The people who printed Tolkien's books changed elfin to elven and vice versa quite a bit, so there is no telling how accurate anything gotten from there is. I got this from the "note about the text" in my copy of LOTR, so if you want more info you could probably get some from the most recent version of that. Also, dictionary definitions would probably help you a lot. Also, I'm just using Tolkien because that seems to be the basis for a lot of these answers. Real definitions may not actually apply in books, so if you want clarification about actual meaning, a dictionary is definitely the way to go.

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The people who made Tolkien's films changed fell beast (adjective + noun) to fell beast (compound noun). Perhaps all these experts realise Tolkien's limitations as a linguist. –  Edwin Ashworth Oct 16 '12 at 23:58
    
This answer mentions only one of the OP's 3 words and focuses exclusively on one source of evidence about it. –  H Stephen Straight Oct 17 '12 at 5:30

protected by tchrist Oct 17 '12 at 2:05

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