word of the day (with a special bonus words along the way)

December 26, 2006

continuing our tradition of blogging like canada—behind the times—today’s word clearly should have been yesterday’s: merry (adj). while i’d like to say that delaying my post on merry is some sort of Zionist plot to reclaim the word for our own perfidious purposes, my real reason for blogging it is the fact I accidentally wished someone a merry–then realized my mistake and said—holidays today, only to have her look at me like an idiot. of course i still looked like an idiot. to which holiday could i have referred? st. sylvester’s feast day is impossibly far away. i could only have been one of those weird bahai, with a weird, made-up holiday, no doubt.

anyway, on to merry. since everyone knows the meaning of the word (or do they?), I thought i’d spend a little time on its etymology before discussing some of its now obs. variants. merry is a cognate of the middle dutch “mergelijc pleasant,” but also the Old High German, “murg short.” According to the OED, “The development of sense appears to have been ‘short; that shortens or whiles away time; entertaining, pleasant,'” which they compare to the word “pastime.” i can’t decide whether or not “merry” still has this temporal element to it, or whether that connotation has completely dropped. nonetheless, our words are right: happiness is fleeting.

the most interesting development in the meaning of “merry” is how specified its become. merry used to be used as just a general word meaning, “That causes pleasure” in many contexts i.e., if the sun was shining bright, it was merry (the moon too); if the winds were right for sailing, they were merry (SHAKESPEARE Com. Err. (1623) IV. i. 90 The merrie winde Blowes faire from land.) if your bitch was pleasant to look at, she was merry (1559 Passage Q. Eliz. Aij, [the ho] by holding vp her handes, and merie countenaunce to such as stode farre of,..did declare her selfe [etc.].) now, nothing is merry. Even using merry as a synonym for “happy” is obsolete.

what gives?

it seems that the temporal aspect is still at play. the primary definitions for merry today are “b. Of a season or festival: characterized by celebration and rejoicing. Freq. in Merry Christmas! and other seasonal greetings,” and “a. Expressive of merriment; characterized by cheerfulness or exuberant gaiety; festive, joyful, jolly,” frequently having to do with alcohol. see, definition 3 on urbandictionary, “The stage inbetween Tipsy and Bladdered. Im not pissed, im just merry!” and i have no clue why this paragraph is in italics, or why it wont let me turn them off.

merry is only defining short term phenomena. and, indeed, the 16th century slang word (why am I surprised there was slang in the 16th century?) “merry bout Obs., (a) a drinking session; (b) slang, an act of sexual intercourse”, makes this clear.

merry also has a (bonus word!) appositive meaning [appositive: Of, pertaining to, or standing in apposition]. the OED records the word, “merry-sorry” which does not mean happily sorry, but negates other senses of the word merry e.g. “these merry-sorry Lashes may Driue Time and Times Abuse,” and merry-sorry Seas to mean bad, rough waters. i’m sure we all can find ways to bring this definition back. please leave suggestions in the comments.

come to think of it, i’m also trying to find a way of generalizing defintion six on urbandictionary:

a goofball girl who going out wit dan and is a very emotinal drinker

man merrys crying yeah dude its cause he drunk.

suggestions on that one are welcome too.

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