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3 min read
Lea Mitchell
November 1, 2023
Reading time
3 min read

Fairy tales: The enchanting influence on English language and culture

Many of the fairy tales we know and love actually originated in Germany, and their influence on the English language is undeniable . . .
Fairy tales: The enchanting influence on English language and culture

Fairy tales: The enchanting influence on English language and culture

In the English-speaking world, fairy tales and folklore hold a special place in both our language and our outlook on life. These timeless stories have shaped our imagination and become an integral part of our cultural fabric. Many of the fairy tales we know and love actually originated in Germany, and their influence on the English language is undeniable.

The origins: German tales in English

Good news for German speakers: a majority of the stories known in America and Britain have their roots in Germany. Take, for example, Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, and Rumpelstiltskin — these beloved tales have made their way from the original German versions into English without much change in pronunciation. The magical and captivating world created by the Brothers Grimm, or die Brüder Grimm, as they're known in German, has enchanted generations of readers and listeners.

Some tales have been directly translated, while others have undergone slight modifications to fit the English language. Snow White, derived from the German "Schneewittchen," and Little Red Riding Hood, originating from "Kleine Rotkäppchen," are prime examples of stories that have been adopted into English-speaking cultures.

Little Red Riding Hood

And who can forget Sleeping Beauty, originally known as "Dornröschen"? These stories, along with many others, have seamlessly crossed linguistic borders, preserving and passing on cultural values to new generations.

The Brothers Grimm

The credit for much of this rich tradition of storytelling goes to the Brothers Grimm, who gathered and wrote some of the most well-known stories in Hessen during the 1800s. We always refer to them as "the Brothers Grimm," reversing the order of their names. This linguistic peculiarity adds to the uniqueness of the English language. We follow different patterns for famous siblings like the Wright brothers or the Ringling brothers, putting the name first.

The Grimm Brothers

The magic of everyday language

Fairy tales have left a mark on our everyday language, with phrases and expressions finding their way into our conversations. When we describe something as "a fairy tale" in casual discourse, it often carries a slightly negative connotation of being unrealistic or proven false. For instance, when someone says, "Making partner in 2 years is a fairy tale," or "Buying a house on this salary is a fairy tale," they're highlighting the unlikelihood of these scenarios.

We frequently encounter phrases borrowed from fairy tales that add color and depth to our language. When someone refers to you as their "fairy godmother" or "guardian angel," they're expressing deep gratitude for your support in a difficult situation. These phrases allow us to paint vivid pictures and convey complex emotions in a concise manner.

A fairy godmother

Spells and magical figures

English is filled with expressions that evoke the enchantment of fairy tales. We use the phrase "to cast a spell" to describe the act of enchanting, bewitching, or influencing others. For example, someone might say, "That girl must have cast a spell on me. I can't stop thinking of her!" It reflects the irresistible allure that someone holds over another.

Another popular phrase is "to wave a magic wand," which signifies the ability to effortlessly make things happen as desired. We often use this phrase sarcastically to emphasize the unrealistic nature of certain desires or expectations.

Waving a wand

Legendary characters

Fairy tales have given us iconic characters that have become embedded in our language and cultural consciousness. The hero who rescues the princess is commonly referred to as Prince Charming. This term can be used sincerely to describe a man who is handsome, elegant, and kind. For instance, you might hear someone say, "What do you think of our new boss? Oh, he's a real Prince Charming."

Prince Charming

The phrase "damsel in distress" is often used ironically. It combines the old-fashioned term "damsel," referring to a woman, with "distress," meaning danger or trouble. Nowadays, this expression is used to challenge the idea that women need to be saved or protected.

Once upon a time and happily ever after

Two phrases have become synonymous with fairy tales and hold a special place in our hearts. "Once upon a time..." marks the beginning of many enchanting tales, capturing our attention from the very start. On a lighter note, if you use this phrase to humorously describe how you met your partner, it's sure to elicit a few laughs.

Book with "Once Upon a Time" written on it

We often conclude fairy tales with the phrase "And they lived happily ever after." This statement wraps up a story with a sense of contentment and leaves us with a warm feeling.



Fairy tales have not only captivated our imaginations but have also woven their way into the English language and culture. From German origins to their adoption into English-speaking societies, these stories have left a mark on our everyday conversations and idiomatic expressions.

Phrases like "a fairy tale," "to cast a spell," and "Prince Charming" have become part of our lexicon, offering colorful ways to convey ideas and emotions. So, the next time you find yourself using a phrase borrowed from a fairy tale or getting lost in a classic story, appreciate the magical influence these tales have had on the English language and our shared cultural heritage.