Alicorn is the horn of the unicorn.


The word comes from Italian alicorno, which has two meanings:

  • The unicorn
  • The horn of the unicorn

In Italy unicorns have historically been variously called: licorno, liocorno, alicorno, or even leocorno, leoncorno. Cognates include French licorne or lincorne and Portuguese alicornio. Henriette Walters suggests that the French word licorne was born out of two consecutive errors in the French language: first the word unicorne was interpreted as une icorne ("an icorn"), which prompted the usage of l'icorne ("the icorn"). Then the definite article fused with the word, resulting in modern licorne[1]. Similarly, Alfred Hoare believes the words were created out of unicorno by appending definite articles: Romance "li-" or (in the case of alicorno) Arabic "al-".

Odell Shepard takes a different route, suggesting that the Romance word licorno simply meant "the horn" and it was already significant before an animal was found that might carry it on its head. The Arabian traders would adopt this name and make it their own, by adding yet another article, resulting in Italian alicorno and Portuguese alicornio.

Odell Shepard coined the English word "alicorn" in his 1930 book "The Lore of the Unicorn". The word has seen wide usage since then. The 1999 Alicorn Project aimed to gather quotations in literature to be added in the 3rd edition of Oxford English Dictionary.

References Edit

  1. Henriette Walter. Honni soit qui mal y pense: L'incroyable histoire d'amour entre le français et l'anglais. Paris, 2001

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