Antedating of Tooth Fairy

Thu Jun 12 03:10:55 UTC 2014

Merriam-Webster has 1962 for "tooth fairy," which seems rather late, and the OED has the frankly implausible 1977.  Wikipedia says the modern tooth fairy first appeared in print in 1927 in a play for children by Esther Watkins Arnold.  Here's an earlier example, from the Chicago Daily Tribune, Sept. 27, 1908 (ProQuest Historical Newspapers), in a section called the Practical Housekeeper's Own Page.  This appears to be a page with practical suggestions for housekeepers submitted by readers, with prizes for the best submissions each week.

"Tooth Fairy.
Many a refractory child will allow a loose tooth to be removed if he knows about the tooth fairy.  If he takes his little tooth and puts it under the pillow when he goes to bed the tooth fairy will come in the night and take it away, and in its place will leave some little gift.  It is a nice plan for mothers to visit the 5 cent counter and lay in a supply of articles to be used on such occasions.
        Lillian Brown."

I don't read Lillian Brown's contribution as actually claiming credit for the tooth fairy (although it's possible that it's her invention), but she, and the editors of the Daily Tribune, clearly thought that most readers would not be familiar with it.

John Baker

The American Dialect Society -

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