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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 periodicals archive ?
HSN will host its biggest holiday sweepstakes ever with the More the Merrier Sweepstakes Presented by Toyota.
And whoever wants to join me can - the more the merrier.
Simon's permanent default wardrobe setting seems to be man-boobs, the more the merrier.
The More the Merrier promotion offers A+ Rewards frequent flier members an opportunity to earn a credit for themselves and a credit for each A+ Rewards member in their party on round-trip flights from Atlanta, US.
The More the Merrier promotion allows A+ Rewards frequent flier members to earn a credit for themselves and a credit for each A+ Rewards member in their party, up to four bonus credits per reservation, on round-trip services from Atlanta between 29 November 2010 and 31 January 2011.
It all got merrier with vodka shots and coconut water.
IT WAS a case of the more, the merrier when twins and triplets from across the North East came together for a special event.
in the Briarwood Community Center) will include "Operetta Night" (July 29), "The More the Merrier - Scenes from Opera & Broadway" (Aug.
The Technical Rubber Products business unit of Lanxess has opened a laboratory for dynamic mechanical analyses within its Polymer Testing department and linked with Merrier Toledo for customer testing.
The More the Merrier Christmas Beauty evening at Selfridges Birmingham was the ultimate in old school festive glamour, from the Ratpack tribute duo doing their very best Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin to the complimentary mince pies and mulled wine served to every attendee.
The more the merrier, for there's plenty of room for them all.
Feel free to smell the virtual flowers with us anytime, Dubai - the more the merrier.