Words of Yule
The word(s) Christmas showed up in Old English in 1123 as Cristes mæsse. It’s no surprise that the first bit heralds from the word Christ, while the second comes from the celebration of mass. More intriguing to me are the arrival dates of the following:
Father Christmas, late 1400s
Christmas box, 1611
Christmas tree 1835
Christmas card 1843
Xmas, which I’ve always assumed is a tacky invention of modern Americans, actually showed up in 1551 in England, the X coming from the first letter of Christos in Greek. Before that, examples of Xrmas (beginning with the first two letters of Christos in Greek) occurred as early as 1100. It turns out we tacky Americans don’t hold responsibility for this one. That 1551 citing comes from the arguably erudite E. Lodge, British historian.
And who knew that yule & jolly are kissing cousins? Both appear to come from a pre-Christian winter feast known in Old Norse as jol. Jolly showed up in English in 1300 after jol made its way through French, becoming jolif, meaning festive, pretty, merry, or amorous, whereas yule (also born of jol) made its way through the Old English word geola, which meant Christmas day or Christmastide. Here’s hoping those amorous Old Norsefolk who gave us these words experienced many a jolly jol in doing so.
Please leave a comment, & whether you celebrate Christmas or some other wintry holiday with friends, with family, or all by your lonesome, may your Christmas mass, your time around the Yule log, or your general jolliness be downright glorious.
My thanks go out to this week’s sources The OED, Collins Dictionary, Ginger Williams (image) & Etymonline.
Vickie L Rabourn
12/12/2019 11:48:36 am
I always thought Xmas was tacky, but also a convenient shorthand. Thanks for filling us in, Charlie!
12/12/2019 11:58:59 am
Hey Vickie -- good to read your voice. And thanks for coming by.
12/12/2019 10:02:12 pm
Well, once again you taught our book club and others a new fact. I NEVER write Xmas (some consider it lazy or irreverent to do so.) I’m just old school- even though I learned Rogers shorthand I prefer to write words out. I didn’t like the abbreviations for states on mail and fought it to no avail!. May you and Ellen have a jolly, merry time - see you at book club first of the year. Your Pal, Dee-Dee
12/13/2019 08:47:52 am
Hey Dee-Dee -- thanks for coming by. I'm with you on "Xmas" -- & it will be grand to see you soon. Best to all Narzisis far & wide.
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I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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