God rest ye merry, gentlemen…

I love words. I find word origins fascinating. How they change in meaning is fascinating. How sentence meanings change due to punctuation can be hilarious. For example – “I love cooking my family and dogs.” means something very different from “I love cooking, my family, and dogs.” How about this one: Supposedly a teacher wrote the following words on a chalk board and told his students to punctuate it.
Woman without her man is nothing

The men all wrote “Woman, without her man, is nothing.”
The women all wrote. “Woman: Without her, man is nothing.”

Same words, two very different meanings.

Around this time we often hear Christmas carols, and one of those Christmas carols is “God rest you merry, Gentlemen.” Now I know many of you are going to look at that and say ‘Why is the comma after ‘merry’? Shouldn’t it ‘God rest you, merry gentlemen’? The answer is no. The original, first printed in the 1700s, does not refer to happy gentlemen. If you look at the entomology of words, first look at the word “rest.” In this usage, it denotes “make” or “keep”. So now we come to Merry. The word originates before 900, and means pleasant or delightful. So the phrase does not mean, as some believe, that these happy gentlemen need to take a nap from their strenuous holiday celebrations. Rather it means “God keep/make you delightful or pleasant.” I know with all the stress of the holiday season upon us, it is easy to get snappish, irritated, frustrated…This is a time when the lonely feel the loneliest, when the poorest feel the difference the greatest, when the sick most want to be well…hopefully those of us who are not poor, lonely, or sick will remember in our rush and hustle of holiday preparations, the ones who are. Indeed, may
“God rest ye merry, Gentlemen.”


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