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bonfire (large controlled outside fire).

Alternative forms[edit]


Presumably from Middle English bonefire, bonefyre, banefyre ‎(a fire in which bones were burnt), equivalent to bone +‎ fire.[1] Cognate with Scots banefire ‎(bonfire) and Welsh banffagl ‎(bonfire). More at bone, fire.

For long, scolars have suspected that the prevailing explanation offered since the late 15th century might be a folk-etymology.[2] Alternative etymologies derive the first component bon from English bane ‎(woe), boon ‎(request for fuel) or, alternatively, Danish bavn ‎(bonfire, beacon) (pronounced /bɑwˀn/).[3] It must be said, however, that modern Danish bavn is derived from more distant Old Norse forms bákn, báken, and Proto-Germanic *baukną. Another candidate might be Proto-Celtic *bānos ‎(white), which is also present in Welsh banffagl ‎(bonfire), equivalent to bân ‎(white) + ffagl ‎(flame, torch, fire-brand,blaze). In both cases, the word bonfire might have been influenced by English balefire ‎(bonfire, pyre), Old English bælfyr ‎(balefire, funeral or sacrificial fire), equivalent to bæl ‎(pyre, bonfire) + fyr ‎(fire) and deriving from an older Proto-Germanic *bēlą. The forms *baukną, *bēlą, and *bānos stem from closely related Proto-Indo-European roots *bʰeh₂-, *bʰā- and *bʰel- ‎(shining, white). The latter is also present in the theonym Beltane, usually associated with the origins of the custom of burning bonfires.[4]



bonfire ‎(plural bonfires)

  1. (obsolete) A fire in which bones were burned.
  2. A fire to burn unwanted or disreputable items or people: proscribed books, heretics etc.
  3. A large, controlled outdoor fire, as a signal or to celebrate something.

Derived terms[edit]


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See also[edit]


  1. ^ bonfire” in Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary (2001).
  2. ^ A. Smyth Palmer, Folk-Etymology. A Dictionary, London 1882, 35-36.
  3. ^ A. Gailey and G.B. Adams, 'The Bonfire in North Irish Tradition', in: Folklore 88 (1977), nr.1, pp. 3-38, 27, 35 (with an Appendix: European Words for “bonfire”.
  4. ^ Ronald Hutton, The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain, Oxford University Press, 1996, pp. 218–225.