Perspective: Seeking the Real Meanings of Christmas; Alexander Tulloch Casts an Etymologist's Eye at Christmas

The Birmingham Post (England), November 30, 2004 | Go to article overview

Perspective: Seeking the Real Meanings of Christmas; Alexander Tulloch Casts an Etymologist's Eye at Christmas


Byline: Alexander Tulloch

For linguists Christmas is a fascinating time of year. Hidden away behind the crass commercialisation and nauseating sentimentalism there are gems of linguistic information for anyone who has the time and the inclination to do a little research and flick through one or two etymological dictionaries.

For those interested in language the derivations of the words we associate with the festive season can be as interesting as any of those quizzes and massive crosswords which suddenly appear in the press about this time.

Take the word 'angel' for instance. This supposedly winged creature that frightened the living daylights out of the poor shepherds as they went about their lawful business has a very prosaic etymology. The word has come into English from the Greek angelos which meant nothing more exciting than 'messenger.' The same word shows up in another clerical guise as 'evangelist' (Greek eu 'good' and angelos) who is just a messenger who brings the good news. The direct translation of these elements into Anglo-Saxon gave god 'good' and spell 'news' which evolved into the word we now recognise as 'gospel.' The star in the east which led the Magi to Bethlehem also has a history which is easily overlooked. It is a word with direct links to German der Stern, Latin stella and the Greek aster (as seen in 'astrology' 'astronomy' etc).

But linguists have also traced the word back even further in time and believe that the word entered European languages as an Indo-European root meaning 'to sprinkle' 'to strew.' The link here is with the ancients who believed that stars 'sprinkled' light down from heaven onto the earth. The same concept is seen in other cognate words such as 'straw' and 'street.' And what about the Magi? They were wise men from what is now Iran whose name derives from Persian word for 'sorcerer.' This word then appeared in the Greek expression magikhe tekhne 'socererers' art' and hence into English and gave us words such as 'magic' and 'magician. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Perspective: Seeking the Real Meanings of Christmas; Alexander Tulloch Casts an Etymologist's Eye at Christmas
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.