What was Freddie Mercury thinking?
February 19, 2005 6:53 PM   Subscribe

LyricsFilter: Regarding word usage in Queen's "Fairy Feller's Master-stroke" ... what does "quaere" mean?

Looking at the lyrics to the Queen song "The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke" off of Queen II, there's a line that says "What a quaere fellow." It sounds like "queer," but it's clearly spelled as "quaere" in almost every set of lyrics for this song I've been able to find. Dictionaries say it's a Latin-derived word meaning "query" or "inquiry" and this site says it's a UK legal term but neither meaning seems to fit in the context of the lyrics. "Queer" seems like it would make much more sense, if only because "quaere" is a noun and "queer" is generally an adjective. Anyone have a clue as to what the line's supposed to mean? Is it a pun of some sort?
posted by Kosh to Media & Arts (4 answers total)
Well, there's the Brendan Behan prison drama The Quare Fellow. "Quare fella" is Irish slang for an eccentric, but also for a condemned man (which is how Behan was using it).
posted by scody at 8:38 PM on February 19, 2005

If I had to guess, I would say Freddie meant it as it sounds, but was just messing around with the spelling to fit it in with the theme.

The lyrics are a direct description of this painting by Richard Dadd called "The Fairy Feller's Masterstroke."
posted by Quartermass at 10:11 PM on February 19, 2005

You know, given that 'fairy' and 'queer' were often in those days used as pejoratives to describe homosexuals, and 'master-stroke' certainly could be taken as a double-entendre (along with all the other single-entendre lines in that song), and ol' Freddy was gay as the day is long.... well, you connect the dots!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:10 AM on February 20, 2005

You're obviously meant to understand "queer-y" (which is how it's pronounced), but quaere (or more properly quære; sometimes, with the diphthong simplified, quere) is the old-fashioned (Latin) spelling of what's now spelled query; it's the imperative of the Latin verb quærere 'to ask' and was formerly used to introduce a question:
"But quere whether his highnes may bee brought in possession in those cases by a clayme or not." (1548, Staunford)
"David Sewall.. has no ambition nor avarice, they say (however, quære)." (1774, J. Adams)
"Quere, whether the natural influence of light and heat occasions this apparent coincidence." (1823, J. Badcock).

From there it was a natural transition to meaning the question itself:
"It would be thought a quære at the best." (1619, H. Hutton)
"This appears to answer Mr. Booth's quære.. as to the reason for the tender of the demy-mark." (1863 A.J. Hurwood)
The anglicized spelling query goes back to the 17th century and seems to have taken over by the 19th.
posted by languagehat at 8:19 AM on February 20, 2005

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