Yule and the Months #Yule #Christmas #TrueMeaningOfChristmas

December 23, 2015

spirit_of_yule

Christmas, Xmas, Noel, Yule. So many names. But why? Christ-mass: that one’s simple enough. “X” is the first letter of the word Christ in Greek (Χριστος), hence Xmas. Noel comes from French, and ultimately the Latin, for “birth” [that is,  of Jesus]. Yule, on the other hand, was originally the name for a heathen feast of around the same period.

Yule is therefore the homeborn English word. And as a non-Christian Englishman, I like to use Yule to consciously stand for the cultural, as opposed to religious, celebration. Why? Because “Christmas” is and always has been about more than just Christianity. Eventually the word Yule fell out of use, except in some dialects, and was brought back to mainstream life in the nineteenth century.

The thought might occur to you: if the homeborn English word yule was replaced, perhaps the names of the months were too. And that’s exactly right. Here’s a quote from the venerable Bede’s The Reckoning of Time.

January, is Giuli; February is called Solmonath; March Hrethmonath; April, Eosturmonath; May, Thrimilchi; June, Litha; July, also Litha; August, Weodmonath; September, Halegmonath; October, Winterfilleth; November, Blodmonath; December, Giuli

As you can tell by names like Eosturmonath, these are the words in their Old English forms. I’m not suggesting we replace our current month names with updated versions of the old ones. Threemilch isn’t going to be plainer and easier to understand than May. But I post them for interest sake and because they are our homegrown words.

January: Yule
February: Solmonth
March: Reedmonth
April: Eastermonth
May: Threemilch
June: Lithe
July: Lithe
August: Weedmonth
September: Holymonth
October: Winterfilth
November: Bloodmonth
December: Yule

As you can see, Yule was really a two month long period, roughly December and January, of feasting and celebration. One half before, and one after, the Winter solstice. Respectively these were named, Ere Yule and After Yule. This was coupled with a two month Summer period, one month before the Summer Solstice, one after. Again, Ere Lithe and After Lithe. That’s lithe as in ‘flexible, supple’. September was also known as hærfestmonað: “Harvestmonth”. Winterfilth has nothing to do with dirt; –filth comes from filleth, which is ‘fill’ as in ‘full’, and ‘eth’ as in strength: so, ‘winter-full-ness’.

So there we have it: the original month names in English and the true meaning of Christmas.

© 2015 Bryan A. J. Parry

Source for Bede’s The Reckoning of Time: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=yFsw-Vaup6sC&pg=PA53&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=3#v=onepage&q&f=false

featured image from http://americanhumanist.org/system/storage/2/6a/2/3607/spirit_of_yule.jpg


Worthful

May 23, 2015

header_logo

I was studying Swedish on Duolingo just now, and I was reminded of the lovely Swedish word värdefull. This is, quite literally, “worthful” and means exactly that: something worth a lot, i.e., valuable. Despite us using worthless, we don’t use the natural opposite, worthful (212,000 hits on Google set against 308,000,000 for valuable). Well, I for one am going to start!

There are two kinds of word which my Anglish project is very keen on: “forgotten words” and “hidden words”. “Forgotten” words are those which are no longer used even though they still make perfect sense. Worthful is a good example. And “hidden” words are those which are implied by other words or by the grammar of the language: I thought worthful would be such a word (implied by worthless), yet it turns out that it really exists. More on these two classes later.

© 2015 Bryan A. J. Parry

Featured image from http://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0790/6779/t/8/assets/header_logo.png?9156818670359772067


To Be- or Not To Be-

April 24, 2015

image

The prefix be- is a versatile little spanner in our English language toolbox. Added to nouns, its meaning can be intensive (to affect or surround thoroughly, completely: bedazzle, befog), privative (behead), causative (make, cause, consider to be: befriend), and to provide or cover with (bejewel). Added to verbs, it means at, against, for, on, over (bewail, berate).

But despite its breadth of meaning, it is far from vague. Indeed, I submit that more-or-less any word could be made into an elegant and readily-understood verb by adding be-.

Try it out for yourself: look around you at random nouns and add be-. What meaning presents itself to you? Try using your new word: do other people understand you?

Despite the obvious usefulness of this word forming element, like every dog, it had its day. For be-, that “day” was the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. During this period, the fad for adding be- to any and all words gave us many useful coinings — although, sadly, most are no longer in use:  bethwack (“to thrash soundly”) and betongue (“to assail in speech, to scold”) are two favourites.

Try it yourself. Have fun with our wonderful language! Take any noun, or verb, and add be-: what meaning does the new form suggest? Do people understand you? Who knows, one day you may find someone else using your word in conversation as if it had always been part of English.

One final thought: begin is also formed from be- plus gin. But what on earth is “gin”? The word gin is so old, we actually don’t know what it meant! Our best guess is something like “open up”.

Addendum

Here’s a brief list of some of my favourite be- words.

befit to be fitting or appropriate or proper for.

befuddle to get confused, to get confused by intoxicants, from fuddle meaning to become drunk.

beget to procreate; literally, ‘to cause to get [children]’. Hmm, makes me think bebaby — to make or become pregnant — would be a fun new word by analogy!

behead Why would anyone say ‘decapitate’ (to take off the capit?) when we have a great word like this?

belie to misrepresent, to deceive by lies, to show to be false or to contradict.

belittle Thomas Jefferson, former US President and Liberal icon, invented this word and was famously condemned by British critics (read: snobs) for his unintelligible language!

beshrew to deprave, pervert, corrupt, and to curse or wish evil upon.

betoken to signify; literally, to make into a token or sign. Think about it, “signify” itself only means sign-ify… to make into a sign or token.

bewilder to thoroughly confuse or perplex; think wilderness for the sense here.

featured image from http://mindfulyourownbusiness.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/logodessin2.png

© 2015 Bryan A. J. Parry


Black Sheep English

January 30, 2015

image

English is so different to the other Germanic languages. This difference is really brought home for us when we compare Article I of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in various Germanic languages.

English:
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

German:
Alle Menschen sind frei und gleich an Würde und Rechten geboren. Sie sind mit Vernunft und Gewissen begabt und sollen einander im Geist der Brüderlichkeit begegnen.

Dutch:
Alle mensen worden vrij en gelijk in waardigheid en rechten geboren. Zij zijn begiftigd met verstand en geweten, en behoren zich jegens elkander in een geest van broederschap te gedragen.

Afrikaans:
Alle menslike wesens word vry, met gelyke waardigheid en regte, gebore. Hulle het rede en gewete en behoort in die gees van broederskap teenoor mekaar op te tree.

Swedish:
Alla människor äro födda fria och lika i värde och rättigheter. De äro utrustade med förnuft och samvete och böra handla gentemot varandra i en anda av broderskap.

Norwegian (Bokmål):
Alle mennesker er født frie og med samme menneskeverd og menneskerettigheter. De er utstyrt med fornuft og samvittighet og bør handle mot hverandre i brorskapets ånd.

Norwegian (Nynorsk):
Alle menneske er fødde til fridom og med same menneskeverd og menneskerettar. Dei har fått fornuft og samvit og skal leve med kvarandre som brør.

Danish:
Alle mennesker er født frie og lige i værdighed og rettigheder. De er udstyret med fornuft og samvittighed, og de bør handle mod hverandre i en broderskabets ånd.

Frisian:
Alle minsken wurde frij en gelyk yn weardigens en rjochten berne. Hja hawwe ferstân en gewisse meikrigen en hearre har foar inoar oer yn in geast fan bruorskip te hâlden en te dragen.

Icelandic:
Hver maður er borinn frjáls og jafn öðrum að virðingu og réttindum. Menn eru gæddir vitsmunum og samvizku, og ber þeim að breyta bróðurlega hverjum við annan.

Faroese:
Øll menniskju eru fødd fræls og jøvn til virðingar og mannarættindi. Tey hava skil og samvitsku og eiga at fara hvørt um annað í bróðuranda.

[Translations from http://www.ohchr.org/EN/UDHR/Pages/SearchByLang.aspx]

Firstly, I’m sorry if I left your favourite Germanic language off! The above list wasn’t meant to be exhaustive, merely representative.

Straightaway, you should notice a lot of variety in the Germanic languages. They aren’t all just like German at all. But despite this variety, a quick glance shows just how far removed English is. Truly, English is the black sheep of the Germanic family!

FUN TASK 1

With the following English-Swedish key, see for yourself what these words come out as in the various Germanic languages:

  • human beings : människor
  • equal : lika
  • dignity :  värde
  • endowed : utrustade
  • reason : förnuft
  • conscience : samvete
  • act : handla
  • spirit : anda

Found those words in all the other Germanic languages yet?

FUN TASK 2

Think about what the English cognates to these Swedish words could be, e.g., lika is ‘like’. Then consider whether these cognates mean the same thing as the English word being translated. So, ‘like’ is the brother-word to lika, but does ‘like’ actually mean ‘equal’? And if not, how not? Do this for all the above words.

FUN TASK 3

Compare the English version to the Spanish and French versions paying particular attention to the eight words we highlighted above.

English:
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Spanish:
Todos los seres humanos nacen libres e iguales en dignidad y derechos y, dotados como están de razón y conciencia, deben comportarse fraternalmente los unos con los otros.

French:
Tous les êtres humains naissent libres et égaux en dignité et en droits. Ils sont doués de raison et de conscience et doivent agir les uns envers les autres dans un esprit de fraternité.

And English is a Germanic language…? But of course, the heavy Latinate influence on English won’t surprise most readers of this blog. None-the-less, this kind of side-by-side comparison is illuminating, to say the least.

SO IT’S ALL LATIN’S FAULT?

Most of my fellow Saxonists — folk who still salute Harold Godwinson as their one true king — will claim this is all William the Conqueror’s fault. If only he hadn’t subjugated this nation, English would be more like Swedish and German. Why, if only he’d stayed in France where he belonged, we’d be using stout Germanic words like ogle, swinehound, and swart — just like any Germanic language worth its salt, such as Swedish: öga, svin, hund, and svart — instead of the pathetic borrowings we’ve been left with: eye, pig, dog, black.

Except eye, pigdog, and black are thoroughly English words. Their use has got nothing, direct or indirect, to do with William the Conqueror and the subsequent Frenchification of England (check the word-histories out here).

Y’see, English belongs to a different branch of the Germanic languages to all the others. The only other living language in this branch, Scots aside, is Frisian — a language more swamped by Dutch than even English has been by French. Furthemore, English being on an island, it has developed in a totally different direction to the other Germanic languages: “insular” does literally mean ‘of an island’ for a reason, you know.

So there we are. Even if it weren’t for the undeniable Latinate influence on English, English always was a bit different. It always was the black sheep.

featured image from http://www.parenthub.com.au/wp-content/uploads/612_black-sheep.jpg

© 2015 Bryan A. J. Parry


%d bloggers like this: