Wednesday, December 15, 2004

My latest Tribune language column:
On the coming obsolescence of the word "merry" and the greeting "Merry Christmas."
temp link/perm.preview

I was going to start the story with this clip from Seinfeld (spotted 10/28 at 6:30 CT):

J: Who would go anywhere with Newman?
G: Well, he's merry.
J: He is merry.

Here's a story about a bizarre campaign to save "Merry Christmas."

I wanted going to note that the word has had a lot of spellings, especially between Chaucer and Shakespeare: “myrie,” “murie,” “mery,” and “merrie.” But that's true of most English words that old. Here's an excerpt from the OED.

• "Hanukkah (also spelled Hanukka, Chanukah, Chanukkah), is from Hebrew and means 'consecration, dedication.'" more

• From AHD's Word Histories and Mysteries:

When asked which words in the English language are the most difficult to define precisely, a lexicographer would surely mention funky. Linguist Geneva Smitherman has tried to capture the meaning of this word in Talkin and Testifyin: The Language of Black America, where she explains that funky means "[related to] the blue notes or blue mood created in jazz, blues, and soul music generally, down-to-earth soulfully expressed sounds; by extension [related to] the real nitty-gritty or fundamental essence of life, soul to the max." The first recorded use of funky is in 1784 in a reference to musty, old, moldy cheese. Funky then developed the sense "smelling strong or bad" and could be used to describe body odor. The application of funky to jazz was explained in 1959 by one F. Newton in Jazz Scene: "Critics are on the search for something a little more like the old, original, passion-laden blues: the trade-name which has been suggested for it is 'funky' (literally: 'smelly,' i.e. symbolizing the return from the upper atmosphere to the physical, down-to earth reality)."


Previous column and inflections

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