Harrison Middleton University

Holiday Words

Holiday Words

We’re excited that you’ve joined the conversation! At HMU, we want to continue the great authors’ conversations in a contemporary context, and this blog will help us do that. We look back to Aristotle and the early philosophers who used reason and discourse to gain wisdom and now we endeavor to do the same every day.


December 22, 2017

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.

I have been busy wrapping presents. But I’ve also been wondering about some of the language that we casually throw around this time of year. So, in today’s post, I am going to compile a couple of terms and tell you what I learned about them. Perhaps the most important word of the season (noticeably missing from this list) is gratitude. I am extremely grateful to the work of Evan Morris of The Word Detective for all of his etymology research and information, as always, couched in a sprig of humor.

Forgive – transitive verb: 1] To cease to feel resentment against (an offender); 2] to give up resentment

The Word Detective offers an excellent synopsis of the first word in our list. He explains:

The root of “forgive” is the Latin word “perdonare,” meaning “to give completely, without reservation.” (That “perdonare” is also the source of our English “pardon.”) When the Latin “perdonare” was adopted into the Germanic ancestor of English, it was translated piece-by-piece, making the result what linguists call a “calque” (from the French “calquer,” to trace or copy) a literal transliteration. “Per” was replaced by “for,” a prefix that in this case means “thoroughly,” and “donare” with “giefan” (“to give”). The result, “forgiefan,” appeared in Old English meaning “to give up, allow” as well as “to give in marriage.” In modern English, “forgive” has also taken on the meanings of “to pardon for an offense,” “renounce anger at” (“I forgive you for feeding bean tacos to my dog “) and “to abandon a claim on” (as in “forgive a debt”).

Deck out – phrasal verb: to decorate a person or object with something, usually for a special occasion.

This is one of my favorites because deck is just a silly and fun metaphor – a ship’s deck or a card deck, does not matter. It participates in a lot of phrases, such as (but not limited to): deck the halls, hit the decks, not playing with a full deck, on deck, and stack the deck. Apparently we love our card jokes so much we transfer them to our halls. We could say “decorate the halls”, but that sounds pretty lame. Deck the halls it is!

Carol – noun: 1] an old round dance with singing; 2] a song of joy or mirth; 3] a popular song or ballad of religious joy

Again, The Word Detective wins the game by providing this bit of research:

“Carol” meaning a song or hymn sung at Christmas, has nothing to do with the personal name “Carol,” which is derived from the same Germanic root as “Charles.”

There’s a debate as to the origin of “carol” in the “song” sense, but English definitely adopted it from the Old French “carole,” and the favored theory traces it back to the Latin “choraules,” meaning “flute player who accompanies a choir or dance.” This trail leads back to the Greek “choros,” which also gave us “chorus” and “choir.” This is all very logical and fits in nicely with our modern English use of “carol” to mean a song usually sung by a group.

The original sense of that Old French “carole,” however, was “a dance in a circle accompanied by singing,” which has led to an alternate theory that the root of “carol” is actually the Latin “corolla,” meaning “little crown, garland,” carrying the sense of “ring” or “circle.” In fact, the original use of “carol” when it first appeared in English around 1300 was “a ring-dance accompanied with song.” Our modern sense of “carol” as a Christmas song didn’t appear until the early 16th century.

Tiding – noun: a piece of good news, usually used in the plural “good tidings”

Tide – noun: 1] a fit or opportune time; 2] an ecclesiastical anniversary or festival; 3] a space of time (obsolete)

Tide is a great noun. It is rare to hear tide in a sense disconnected with the sea. Yet, we still have remnants of those ancient roots in phrases such as Yuletide and Good Tidings. Traditions have a funny way of sticking around for a long time. It is particularly helpful to have songs and jingles to spread the language unanimously. Yule comes from an Old Norse word, and if we had the time, I would love to investigate the associations of Jul in Swedish and Norwegian. Since this is about English, however, I’ll skip back to the idea of tides and tiding, which stems from Old English, meaning “time or season”. The Word Detective says, “If we wish someone ‘good tidings’ or hear the phrase ‘tidings of great joy,’ we are harking back to a related Old Icelandic word meaning ‘news or events.’”

I hope this list increases your festive attitude! Happy holidays!

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