The always enticing wood s lot sent me to Apollinaire’s “Automne malade” (here‘s a pretty good translation by John Hayes — I didn’t like the one at the s lot), and I was struck not only by Apollinaire’s lush sonic landscape but by a line with two words that I didn’t understand and weren’t in any of my French-English dictionaries: “Sur les nixes nicettes aux cheveux verts et naines.” Fortunately, the Trésor de la langue française informatisé came to my rescue; it turns out that nixe is a water spirit, a neck, nicor, or nixie, and nicet (fem. nicette) is a diminutive form of nice, an archaic or dialectal adjective meaning ‘foolish, simple, ignorant,’ to quote the OED s.v. nice, which is borrowed from the French word — as the OED says, “The semantic development of this word from ‘foolish, silly’ to ‘pleasing’ is unparalleled in Latin or in the Romance languages.” Classical Latin nescius, the source of the French word, is transparent in formation: the negative particle ne– plus scīre ‘to know’ (compare the uncommon English adjective nescient ‘ignorant,’ borrowed directly from Latin). Of the water sprite, the OED (s.v. nicker, updated September 2003) says:
Cognate with Middle Dutch necker, nicker (Dutch nikker demon (now obsolete in this sense and employed as a term of racial abuse)), Middle Low German necker, Old High German nichus, nihhus, nikhus (masculine) crocodile, water sprite (Middle High German nickes, nikhus (masculine) water sprite, crocodile, German Nix water sprite, merman (> nix n.2)), nicchessa (feminine) nymph (Middle High German nikese, nikse (in surnames), –nixe (in compound wazzernixe siren), German Nixe (> nixie n.1)), Old Icelandic nykr (Icelandic nykur), Swedish näck, Norwegian (Bokmål) nøkk, Norwegian (Nynorsk) nykk, Danish nøkke), perhaps ultimately < the same Indo-European base as Sanskrit nij-, ancient Greek νίζειν, Early Irish nigid (Irish nigh) all in sense ‘to wash’.
Incidentally, all the translations I’ve seen treat naines as an independent noun and render it “dwarves,” but I agree with Timothy Mathews in Reading Apollinaire: Theories of Poetic Language (p. 45), who treats it as an adjective modifying nixes: “The unusual position of the adjective at the end of the line — the fact that it is significantly separated from the the noun it qualifies — further strains the relation of adjective to noun. ‘Naines’ is spatially close to ‘cheveux’, but because of the discrepancy in gender, there is no adjectival chain established between ‘naines’ and ‘verts’, and the reader is brought up against a qualifier in an unfamilial context, or comes across a word without remembering where it belongs.” (Apollinaire quoted previously on LH.)