Wednesday, July 13, 2011

God rest ye MERRY. What does that mean, actually? (Dec. 22, 2007)

Current mood: peaceful

What a difference a comma makes!

"God rest ye merry, gentlemen!" <--Isn't there something wrong here? Shouldn't that comma be one word to the left?

Actually, no. The word "merry", which derives from the Old English myrge or myrige, originally meant pleasant or agreeable. The current meaning -- joyful, full of fun -- dates only from the 1300s. The term "rest you merry" meant, simply, rest (or sleep) peacefully, take it easy. Shakespeare even used it (Romeo & Juliet, I ii 62).

"Let nothing you dismay." Let nothing dismay you, i.e., don't let anything get you down, a simple restatement of the foregoing. And why not? Perhaps you've forgotten:

"Remember Christ our saviour was born on Christmas day ..." Yes, that is a comforting thought. However, that is not all of the sentence.
"... to save us all from Satan's power when we have gone astray." Now there's news! And what's another word for news? Tidings, of course!

"O tidings of comfort and joy!" Yes, everyone, take comfort and have peace, knowing that we are protected, saved.

So, let's take it from the top:

God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember Christ our saviour
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan's power
When we have gone astray.
O tidings of comfort and joy!

Now doesn't that give you an agreeable sense of peace?
Oh, and there's one more place you often find that word:

- Merry -

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