The nights have gotten longer, John Lewis has melted our hearts and your favourite Michael Buble song is probably on repeat. Christmas is just around the corner. To get into the festive spirit, we thought we’d have a bit of fun here at HN HQ, with our love of weird and wonderful words.
Especially those words whose origins are shrouded in mystery — even though everyone uses them. So here are our top 5 festive words, including their definition, origin and where we think you might be able to use them.
Number 5 on our list of weird words is Yule. No doubt we’ll all be tucking into a slice of yule log at some point over the holidays, but what does the actual word ‘Yule’ mean?
Definition – The word Yule is an archaic term that was used to refer to the festival we now know as Christmas.
Origin – The word is attested to a completely pre-Christian, Old Norse context. One of the Norse gods, Odin, was given the name ‘Yule father’, whilst in old Norse poetry the word is regularly used to describe a ‘feast’.
In modern English, the word is a representation of the Old English word ‘geol’, which alluded to a 12-day festival of yule (think 12 Days of Christmas).
How you might use it – “I’m sorry, I just can’t contain my excitement for Yule this year. It’s all too much!”
HN Weirdness Rating – 5/10
You might be thinking, ‘I know what myrrh is; it’s one of the presents given to baby Jesus!’ That’s true, but do you know what it actually is? (If you do, then you’re probably a Christmas crossword aficionado.)
Definition – In its original form, myrrh is a resin extracted from a thorny tree species from the genus Commiphora. Throughout history, it has been used as perfume, incense and as medicine.
Origin – The origin of the word actually came from the Arabic for ‘bitter’ and entered the English language from the Hebrew Bible.
How you might use it – “Someone fetch the myrrh. Auntie Ethel’s fainted after that last game of Charades!”
HN Weirdness Rating – 6/10
Coming in at number 3 is eggnog. This is another one of those very strange-looking words that we’ve all heard of. Use it outside of Christmas and people will give you an odd stare and a wide berth.
Definition – A rich, chilled, dairy-based drink that is made with milk, cream, sugar, whipped eggs and distilled spirits such as brandy, rum or bourbon.
Origin – The dictionary links eggnog to the word ‘nog’, which referred to a strong beer brewed in East Anglia. Alternatively, it has also been attributed to the Middle English term ‘noggin’, which referred to a small, carved wooden mug that was used to serve alcohol.
How you might use it – “Could you make me another eggnog, please?”
“Really? How many have you had?”
“It’s Christmas, who’s counting?!”
HN Weirdness Rating – 8/10
Definition – A horned, anthropomorphic figure that is often described as being “half goat, half demon”.
People often cited the creature as an antithesis to St Nicholas and it is said that he punishes children who behaved badly in the previous year. December the 5th is known as Krampus Day in some parts of Austria.
On this day, adults and children will gather in the village square to throw snowballs in an attempt to ward off the demon. (It seems only natural that snowballs are the last line of defence against a horned, devil-esque monster.)
Origin – This word has both Austrian and German heritage and, as mentioned above, refers to a devil-type creature.
It is recorded as first being used in Germanic folklore somewhere in the early 17th Century.
How you might use it – “I don’t want to put any pressure on you, but, if you don’t start throwing more snowballs, then Krampus is going to get us all.”
HN Weirdness Rating – 9/10
Our most weird and wonderful word this Christmas is Mumming.
If, like me, you had absolutely no idea what this was, then don’t worry. All will be revealed.
Definition – Mumming typically refers to a type of folk play that combines music, dance and sword fighting. It is often performed at Christmas time, when men will dress up as women and vice versa.
People will put on masks and go out into the street to perform a humorous play for their neighbours. The celebration is still continued in certain parts of the UK, Canada and USA, including a 6-hour parade on New Year’s Day in Philadelphia!
Origin – The word itself is sometimes considered to have stemmed from the word ‘mummer’, which is thought to have been derived from the Middle English term, mum (“silent”) or the Greek, mommo (“mask”).
However, it appears it is much more likely to have come from the New High German use of the word ‘mummer’, which meant a “disguised person”.
How you might use it – “Quick! Grab the elf ears. Let’s go mumming and annoy the neighbours!”
HN Weirdness Rating – 10/10
So, there you have it. The HN guide to the weird and wonderful words that you might hear this Christmas. Stay tuned for a business edition of our weird words in 2017. For now, enjoy the holidays!