Cinderella: Fur or Glass Slippers?

©2013 Edward C. Lunnon

Tuesday 11 June 2013: 6 years 9 months on …

Game: ED

“Claim: Cinderella’s slippers were made of fur in the original versions of the fairy tale, but they became glass slippers in later versions as the result of a mistranslation.

Status: False.

This came up in conversation a few days ago, so I looked into it a bit. And alas, though mistranslation is not the culprit, it seems pretty clear to me that the slippers must originally have been fur, and turned into glass through a misunderstanding.

Snope’s discussion of the point is clear and well researched, as usual:

The standard explanation for Cinderella’s famous footwear is that it is the result of a mistranslation, someone having mistaken pantoufle de vair, fur slipper, for pantoufle de verre, glass slipper, when making an English version of Charles Perrault’s Histoires ou contes du temps passé avec des moralités (1697). (The title of Perrault’s collection — in English, Stories or Tales of Olden Times with Morals — also is known as Tales of My Mother Goose, after a line that appears on the frontispiece of the original, Contes de ma mère l’oye.)

The principal difficulty with the standard explanation is that pantoufle de verre appears in Perrault’s original text, so this is definitely not a question of mistranslation. Nor does it seem to be a case of mishearing, with Perrault writing verre for vair when transcribing an oral account, since vair, a medieval word, was no longer used in his time. (Vair, variegated fur, from the Latin varius, varied, also is a root of miniver, originally menu vair, small vair, which referred initially to the fur — perhaps squirrel — used as trim on medieval robes and later was applied to the prized ermine, or winter weasel fur, on the ceremonial robes of peers.)

Indeed, the original text of Perrault’s tale “Cendrillon ou la petite pantoufle” does use pantoufles de verre (“glass slippers”) not once but three times (see below), so it’s clearly neither a mistranslation nor a (simple) misprint. However, the argument against mishearing seems to me to be extremely weak. Though I’m not any sort of expert in the history of French, a bit of poking around on Gallica suggests that vair was still used to describe a glamorous and valuable kind of squirrel fur, in the context of talk about the olden days, quite a bit later than 1697. If the word had indeed gone out of everyday usage, then that creates exactly the sort of context in which a creative mishearing would be likely.”

From Language Log by Mark Liberman


Whatever; whatever!

My slippers are neither glass nor squirrel fur.

They are made from sheep skin and sheep wool. And they have lasted 26 years, having been given to me way back in 1987 by Jean Watermeyer of Doorndraai, Four Winds, Beaumont and the Standard Bank House all in Aberdeen and the district of Camdeboo!

They have walked a long way – sometimes an easy passage and sometimes a more difficult path.

Now, they are worn out and showing the wear and tear of a life well-lived.

They have now lived their life!

Quo vadis?

Who knows?

Is there a life hereafter for slippers – be they glass, squirrel or sheep?

Whatever; whatever!

Today I say goodbye to my friends of 26 years. We will go our separate ways. I shall miss them and no replacement will ever be the same.

Will our paths cross again? I really don’t know.

What I do know – I shall have fond memories of the road we travelled together.

Goodbye, my holy slippers.

Yours was a job that was well done, and it’s not about whether you lost or won the game – it’s all about how you played the game. You played yours well!

Now, your mission here has come to an end. You are tired and worn out.