Merry


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Merry

In contemporary English the word "merry" means "jolly," "cheerful," "lively," or "happy." Few people realize, however, that it once meant something slightly different. At the time the English coined the phrase "Merry Christmas," merry meant "pleasant," "delightful," or "joyful." Thus, at that time, the well-known phrase "merry England" did not mean "jolly England," but rather "pleasant" or "delightful" England. When used to describe a holiday, the word "merry" signaled that it was a time of festivity or rejoicing.

In greeting one another with the phrase "Merry Christmas," the English were wishing each other a festive and joyful holiday. The sixteenth-century English Christmas carol, "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen," offers another example of this usage. Contemporary English speakers often interpret the title of this song to mean something like "God Rest You, Jolly Gentlemen." In fact, the comma separating "merry" from "gentlemen" in the original phrase tells us that in this context "merry" does not function as an adjective describing the gentlemen in question. In the sixteenth century, "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen" meant "God Rest You Joyfully, Gentlemen" or, as contemporary English speakers might be more likely to say, "God Keep You Joyous, Gentlemen" (for the phrase "Merry Christmas" in differentlanguages, see Merry Christmas and Happy New Year).

Further Reading

Weiser, Francis X. The Christmas Book. 1952. Reprint. Detroit, Mich.: Omnigraphics, 1990.
References in classic literature ?
I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can't afford to make idle people merry.
I confess that my imagination was more occupied with that picture of the two lovers making merry together in the moonlit dingle.
Soon after, with a drink all round, we lay down to sleep, and the outside of Silver's vengeance was to put George Merry up for sentinel and threaten him with death if he should prove unfaithful.
All that summer Robin Hood and his merry men roamed in Sherwood Forest, and the fame of their deeds ran abroad in the land.
Bright were the days at Merry Mount, when the Maypole was the banner staff of that gay colony
Finding him very expert as a hunter, and being pleased with his eccentricities, and his strange and merry humor, Captain Bonneville fitted him out handsomely as the Nimrod of the party, who all soon became quite attached to him.
As he jogged along over the fields, singing and dancing, a little dwarf met him, and asked him what made him so merry.
Selfridge Merry, had cast a quick glance down the table.
Now I have no longer a blank; I have sold my napery, my shirt and my towels; no more merry life
It was at the dawn of day in the merry Maytime, when hedgerows are green and flowers bedeck the meadows; daisies pied and yellow cuckoo buds and fair primroses all along the briery hedges; when apple buds blossom and sweet birds sing, the lark at dawn of day, the throstle cock and cuckoo; when lads and lasses look upon each other with sweet thoughts; when busy housewives spread their linen to bleach upon the bright green grass.
Several times Rostov, covering his head, tried to go to sleep, but some remark would arouse him and conversation would be resumed, to the accompaniment of unreasoning, merry, childlike laughter.
1-26) Muse, tell me about Pan, the dear son of Hermes, with his goat's feet and two horns -- a lover of merry noise.