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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 ?
"The more the merrier on Saturday because, with Colchester and Brentford playing each other, it's a big opportunity for us to make some headway for automatic promotion."
``It's going all right both for the team and myself at the moment,and as far as records are concerned, the more the merrier. But picking up the points is the most important thing.''
Staying true to its 'Amore the Merrier' credo, Italiannni's Roast Chicken Platter is an ideal choice when you and your family or friends can't decide on what to have for brunch, lunch or dinner.
MAR THE J MERRIER Marlon's happy to pose with a young fan COOL DUDE Z Jackie Jackson keeps off the cold with a jacket and scarf
Ascot spokesman Nick Smith said: "We always said it was easier to book tickets in advance, but there is no way we will be turning people away at the gate and the more that turn up the merrier."
I'm very grateful to Warwickshire County Council and contractors, Carillion, for letting us use the road and I hope lots of people come along - the more the merrier."
And now I hear it's going to be even merrier for new babe Jade Ewen - because she's bagged herself a man.
THE more the merrier seems to be the essence of this track Knock You Down by Keri Hilson featuring Kanye West and Ne-Yo.
TORR THE MERRIER: Torres leads the Liverpool revival against Pompey yesterday ...
"Perhaps you could invite his friends along to make it more fun or if you have a dog take your pet along, after all the more the merrier.
IT'S no secret that Coleen McLoughlin loves clothes, the more the merrier, but could she be about to go without any at all?
A survey by the CBI shows a below-average performance last month but despite the lack lustre performance retailers remain optimistic of a merrier December.