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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 ?
As the drama begins, Merrily (Anna Maxwell Martin) is wandering around a creepy house with a few other vicars and the no-nonsense Rev Huw Owen (David Threlfall).
As the drama begins, Merrily, inset, (Anna Maxwell Martin) is wandering around a creepy house with a few other vicars and the no-nonsense Rev Huw Owen (David Threlfall).
Based on the books by Phil Rickman, Merrily has become one of the few women priests working as an exorcist and, if it sounds like a dramatic device, it's not.
It soon became the thing to do in New York that fall--go see Merrily (as it was nicknamed) and mock it.
Summary: Honking their noses and flopping down the street in giant shoes, some 200 clowns have marched merrily through Mexico City.
One of the newest and enthusiastically recommended board books from Holiday House is "Down On The Farm" that combines Merrily Kutner's simple but entertaining text with Will Hillenbrand's delightfully colorfully illustrations that introduce a very naughty goat's adventures along with the sights and sounds of a busy day on the farm.
Neither apologise, and both carry on merrily, so it is impossible to understand what they are saying.
It just goes merrily on its way regardless of the problems it causes.
Still, he can merrily hurl cine marie Melotovs at intolerance, bigotry, and macho posturing and could also shoot up his movies with heady doses of Cocteau and Garcia Lorca.
In a ``Tots and Tonic'' segment examining the trend of so-called happy- hour play dates, she and a group of fellow moms merrily clinked wine glasses while their kids played in a nearby sandbox.
She is condemned to a life without gravity and floats about merrily and carelessly until a handsome prince falls in love with her.
Meanwhile, offences at corners and free-kicks go merrily unchecked - witness Sheffield United's great shirt-tugger, Chris Morgan, and he's not alone.

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