Merry

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Related to merriest: merry, inconvenient, unaccounted, making merry

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.
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Daubed as "the merriest place to play in the UK", Jingle Bingo has something for everyone covering all levels of experience and expertise.
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The merriest of Christmases to all and the happiest of New Years.
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It was sung to the tune of TheThis day for our new navigatiWe banish all cares and vexatThe sight of the barges each hohearts glads And the merriest of mortals arBirmingham lads.
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Best wishes for the merriest of holidays and a happy, healthy new year
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And in his own way he would like to put the question of God before them, even in his merriest pieces.
But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously--no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.