If you don’t think spelling matters, consider the centuries-old debate about whether Cinderella’s slipper was really made of fur rather than glass.
Charles Perrault’s classic 17th century tale makes three references to a pantoufle de verre – literally, a glass slipper. But “verre” has a homophone in French: “vair,” a fur (probably squirrel) frequently used during the 13th and 14th centuries for lining and trimming the clothing of the wealthy.
In the mid-19th century, the writer Honore de Balzac insisted that Perrault meant the slippers to be made of fur which, under French sumptuary laws, only the upper classes had the right to wear. It’s a logical argument if we think of fur slippers as the Prada of their day – something a fairy godmother might give a girl so she would blend in with the other guests at the Prince’s swanky soirée.
On the other hand, sometimes a pipe is really a pipe, and even Snopes.com dismisses the mistranslation theory.
But, then again, sometimes a pipe represents something sexual. Early 20th century child psychologist, Bruno Bettleheim, argued in his The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, that the glass slipper was meant to represent a vagina: “Something that is brittle and must not be stretched because it would break reminds us of the hymen.”
Of course, fur would work equally well as a metaphor for the vagina. But then again, sometimes a pipe really is just a pipe. And a slipper is just a glass slipper, something ethereal and impossible.
Or maybe we’ve been getting everything all wrong, and Caesar actually had a beer at his funeral.