SpecGram Vol CLXXXIX, No 1 Contents Letters to the Editor

Have Yourselves a Very Linguisticky Christmas

By Yuletide Editor X. Mus

Ding-dong merrily on high front vowel! ‘Hark!’ the herald angels sing, sang, sung! Good King Wenceslas out-looked looked out. Christmas is nearly ’pon us after a year more unexpected than the most suppletive of suppletions. A time, at least traditionally, for foul weather, increased energy bills, family fights and overly familiar TV listings, Christmas also boasts a linguistic dimension that is as much underplayed, under-referenced and misunderstood as it will not be underlined, underscored and underpinned. So let’s undertake that now. Consider the word itself: Christmasthere’s an apparently silent ⟨h⟩ (but not the same one as that in ‘the honest heir’s honourable hour’) an ablaut [] to [ɪ] and an elided [t]. Three linguisticky Christmas gifts to rival the traditional gold, frankincense and the one with a ⟨y⟩ and a double ⟨rr⟩. And that’s just the phonetics and orthography. The morphosyntax is as surprising as the average post-15-years-of-age Christmas present is un-excitement-engendering: why one word? why no possessive apostrophe? and what exactly does the root morpheme -mas refer to?

And Christmas isn’t the only intriguing term that the season offers us: the spelling of myrrh, as much as mystery as the Incarnation itself, has already been touched upon. Among the other contenders for an X-factor Xmas lexeme is yuletide log, which is most certainly not a digestive euphemism. But it may be the narrative elements of the festival that puzzle the most. Leaving aside the most obvious one, the literal Christmas story, have you ever paused to wonder why ‘good’ King Wenceslas had not begun the process of democratising his kingdom and indeed why there was no social security provision for poor men whose only chance of food was coming in sight of a bored individual with material means? The answer, perhaps, is that in any fair vote, the page, who clearly knows much more about the man than his pig-ignorant if well-meaning royal boss, would win hands down.

There’s more! The linguistic Santa of Christ’s Mass (ah!, that’s it!) brings many a stockingful of language-y gifts ’cross the sky on his glittering word science sleigh. And if you’ve put some language-awareness cookies out on the hearth of form-function pairings you can guarantee yourself a St. Nick linguistic insightful gift or two this festive seasonwhich’ll beat any pair of socks or model aircraft. Take Christmas collocations, for example, such as festive season itself. How about carol singing (not Carol, singing), stuff the turkey (not Stuff, the Turkey) and wrap a present (not rapper present)? And of course, if it turns out, howsoever unexpectedly, that playing charades for the umpteenth time doesn’t quite have the sparkle of previous decades, why not adapt the game from films, TV shows and books to those collocations? Miming stuff the turkey for a few minutes is sure to bring some sense of Christmas cheer.

Nomenclature enters into the bargain as well. What is Christmas for some, is for others the Festival of the Birth of Jesus; for those with a time-saving streak, simply Xmas will do; for the kids it’s the Christmas holiday, and for that progressively secular bunch, Mid-Winter Break. A post-prandial Christmas Day discussion as to what to name this period is sure to pass the time relatively quickly through to Boxing Day, when we can all return to the tried and tested mental state of dreading going back to work. But whatever it is for, a binge-watching break, family festivity or a sincere and sacred celebration, have a good one, Xmas it up to the max and we’ll see you all in 2021 for much more fun, games and language.

Happy Holidays* from SpecGram!

The proofreading interns suggested that ‘a double ⟨rr⟩’ is an ⟨rrrr⟩. Once we’d flogged them for cheekiness, we realised they might have a point. But as it’s probably just another case of reduplication, we simply re-flogged them.

* Including but not limited to Anthesteria, Bodhi Day, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, Dísablót, Dōngzhì Festival, Festivus, Hanukkah, Hogmanay, HumanLight, Indogermanischen Urlaub, Koliada, Krampusnacht, Kwanza, Malkh, Mōdraniht, Newtonmas, Ōmisoka, Pancha Ganapati, St. Lucia Day, Saturnalia, Soyal, Yaldā, Yule, and Zamenhof Day. In SpecGram Towers, we will also be celebrating Thanxmas, in gratitude for our wonderful readers and remunerative subscribers.

Letters to the Editor
SpecGram Vol CLXXXIX, No 1 Contents