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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 ?
Very fitting the grey sky should openly cry When you would wave your colourful tickling sticks and say 'Lock the doors no one is getting away More laughter and merriment is on its way'.
Rishabh Vyas - CEO, Baromeeter, "December is a time for merriment and cheer.
Adding to the merriment, Deborah Zemke's illustrations depict a comically expressive barnyard full of memorable characters.
Taking notice of the holiday mash-up are Jamie Elman and Eli Batalion, the boychiks over at YidLife Crisis, a Yiddish-language webseries that follows the shenanigans (or rather, mishegas), of two bilingual, liberal Jews with a penchant for merriment.
I don't think we want to kill merriment altogether, but I think it's important passengers who board planes are responsible - and they have a responsibility to other passengers.
Panelists include JC Baldwin of GTC Technical, Rosa Cruz of Rosa Maria Cruz CPA, Wendy Dalpez of The Entrepreneurs Source, Kelsey Dew of The Dilly Deli and Brianne Vertrees of Merriment.
My monsterful maker mindfully meted my minnock many meritorious marks: moxie, merriment, mien; May-dew morsels mere men might motch.
As the yuletide season draws nearer, a wave of merriment cascades through the halls of Shangri-La's Mactan Resort & Spa in Cebu.
Weekend of merriment A view of Abersoch | FOLLOWING the success of the Abersoch Christmas Festival organisers have been busy planning another fun filled family weekend.
Thiruvananthapuram: Bitter tears and wild revelry have cohabited in a bizarre fashion in Kerala over the past week, roiling the traditional Onam festival mood and setting off debates whether the new generation is taking festival merriment into dangerous territory.
This year's festival will be extended to encompass both York Road and Heathfield Road, after the success of the inaugural 2014 event when more than 2,000 people joined the merriment.
It's a time of office parties and seasonal merriment -- but too much could spell trouble.

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