A Christmas classic

From Charles Addams:

Merry isn’t a particularly common word, and it tends to be restricted in its contexts of use. From NOAD2:

cheerful and lively: the narrow streets were dense with merry throngs of students | a merry grin.

• (of an occasion or season) characterized by festivity and rejoicing: he wished me a merry Christmas.

• [predic.] Brit. informal   slightly and good-humoredly drunk: after the third bottle of beer he began to feel quite merry.

PHRASES

go on one’s merry way informal   carry on with a course of action regardless of the consequences.

make merry enjoy oneself with others, esp. by dancing and drinking.

the more the merrier the more people or things there are, the better or more enjoyable a situation will be.

The seasonal use is almost entirely used for Christmas; happy is the default adjective here.

4 Responses to “A Christmas classic”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    The seasonal use is almost entirely used for Christmas; happy is the default adjective here.

    Further to which, I think “Merry Christmas” is an Americanism; British folks seem to mostly say “happy”.

    I had not thought of this before, but I suspect the “slightly drunk” sense is behind its repeated use in the Purcell catch “I Gave Her Cakes and I Gave her Ale”. Although other kinds of, well, merriment are also suggested.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      The facts on happy vs. merry with Christmas are moderatey complex. There is a British/American difference, but it seems to be a statistical preference, not even close to a bright distinction.

  2. thnidu Says:

    Thinking about this, I remembered the lines
    “We were very tired, we were very merry,
    We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry…”
    from Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Recuerdo”. And ISTM that perhaps “merry”, outside the seasonal and cheerfully-slightly-drunk uses, has a component of sociability that “happy” lacks.

    It’s explicit in the defs of your 5th and 6th senses from NOAD, “make merry” and “the more the merrier”. But look also at the first example in the 1st sense: “cheerful and lively: the narrow streets were dense with merry throngs of students“. I may be losing my perspective with overthinking this, but I find it a bit awkward to substitute “happy” or “cheerful” in the first one. I have no trouble with “throngs/crowds of happy students”, but I’m more comfortable characterizing the collective with “merry”.

    Thoughts?

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