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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 ?
Once again the handicapper has stepped in, but Merrymaker can continue to improve on Polytrack and is taken to win again.
While reading Mystics, Mavericks and Merrymakers, I sometimes felt that I was reading a collection of short stories.
Patrick Mathers gave Merrymaker a peach of a ride, coming late to win the 2m handicap, while Liam Treadwell burrowed his way up the inside rail on Out For A Stroll to get up close home and catch top-weight Chicken Soup to justify favouritism in the concluding apprentice handicap.
But the over-indulgent merrymaker is only one of the problems a homeowner can encounter during the holiday season.
There was a tight finish to the mile-and-a-half handicap in which Namat preserved his unbeaten record for Willie Jarvis by holding Feed The Meter and Merrymaker by two necks in the hands of Seb Sanders.
MARK BRISBOURNE set a new personal best score for a calendar year when saddling Merrymaker to take the 14-furlong handicap under Pat Mathers.
Merrymaker will be strong against him in the market but the race he won at Wolverhampton early in the month when heavily backed was not strong and, under contrasting conditions today, he is worth taking on.
Fallon put his winnerless afternoon at Newmarket behind him by landing the seller for James Given on Bob's Flyer, and later took his tally for the campaign to 163 when getting top-weight Merrymaker home in the mile-and-a-half handicap to complete a double for Mark Brisbourne.
Patrick Mathers, who rode Merrymaker, received a four-day suspension (September 24-27) for using his whip with excessive frequency.
Richard Fahey, Ryan's former boss, also took his tally for the season to 49 winners courtesy of Bramantino, who came good in the 12-furlong handicap under a tremendous ride from apprentice Tony Hamilton to get the better of Can Can Charlie and Merrymaker in a head-bobbing finish.
Arie; Band of Merrymakers featuringMark McGrath, Tyler Glenn ofNeon Trees; Currently on tour,The Beach Boys performingMike Love's new single"(You'll Never Be) Alone On Christmas Day"; Daughtry; Diana DeGarmo; Kat Graham; Candice Glover; Taylor Hicks; Alexander Jean featuringB.
Aire; Band of Merrymakers featuring Mark McGrath, Tyler Glenn of Neon Trees, Kevin Griffin of Better Than Ezra, and Sam Hollander; Daughtry, Diana Degarmo; Kat Graham; Candice Glover; Taylor Hicks; Alexander Jean featuring B.