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Why? “To save us all from Satan’s pow’r / When we were gone astray.” That’s why. Do try to keep up.

God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember Christ our Savior
Was born on Christmas Day
To save us all from Satan’s pow’r
When we were gone astray
Oh tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
Oh tidings of comfort and joy

An ancient carol from the 15th century. The first recorded version is found in Three New Christmas Carols, dated c. 1760. Note that the correct placement of the comma in the first line determines the meaning.

In modern times the comma slid from behind “merry,” to in front of “,merry” which flips the whole carol topsy turvy. The original sentiment is for God to keep you merry*** in the face of whatever suffering may assail you in life. (A kind of archaic “Have a good day”.) At the same time, the word “merry”*** itself has to be understood in its original meaning.

*** ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ & The Lost Punctuation Mark | 

When modern people say “Merry” Christmas, the word merry means happy. When “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” was written, merry had a very different meaning. Robin Hood’s “Merry Men” might have been happy, but the merry that described them meant great and mighty. Thus, in the Middle Ages, a strong army was a merry army, a great singer was a merry singer, and a mighty ruler was a merry ruler.

So when the English carolers of the Victorian era sang, “merry gentlemen,” they meant great or mighty men. Ye means you, but even when translated to “God rest you mighty gentlemen,” the song still makes very little sense. This is due to another word that has a much different meaning in today’s world and a lost punctuation mark.

The word rest in “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” simply means keep or make. Yet to completely uncover the final key to solving this mystery of meaning, a comma needs to be placed after the word “merry.” Therefore, in modern English, the first line of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” should read “God make you mighty, gentlemen.” Using this translation, the old carol suddenly makes perfect sense, as does the most common saying of the holidays, “Merry Christmas.”


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • David December 24, 2019, 1:18 PM

    Thank you for that. I really appreciate your love of the English language.

  • James ONeil December 24, 2019, 2:38 PM

    I’m not sure merry is mighty, I lean more toward the Old English myrge; pleasing in manner or agreeable, then again, I’m not sure merry isn’t mighty
    Not germane (-However when discussing words, language and origins, I suspect that one’s mind always goes off on tangents.) but I’m pretty sure eye and symmetry rhymed in William Blake’s day.

  • matthew schaffer December 24, 2019, 3:45 PM

    I’m sold! The mightier the merrier.

  • Vanderleun December 24, 2019, 5:39 PM

    I’m with ONeil on eye and symmetry.
    But which rhyme way I cannot say.

  • ghostsniper December 24, 2019, 5:53 PM

    Ever notice santa and satan are the same word, just different?
    St Nickleanddimeus to def.

  • Nori December 24, 2019, 6:51 PM

    Splendid. This has always been my favorite Christmas carol. Miz Lennox does it with gusto,thank you very much.As befitting a proper Englishwoman. God Save England.

    On that note,Black Adder’s Christmas Carol is warming up in the dvd thingy,to help me thru prep 4 tomorrow’s feast.

    God rest ye merry,gentlemen.

  • Jewel December 25, 2019, 7:05 PM

    The Unicorn in the Bible is another such word that doesn’t mean what we think it means. In fact, if you look up the definition of unicorn from a few hundred years ago, and a few hundred years ahead of the KJV of the Bible, you will find this interesting bit of useless knowledge: (Early 1600s)
    Numbers 23:22
    God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.

    From Webster’s Dictionary (1828)
    U’NICORN, noun [Latin unicornis; unus, one, and cornu, horn.]
    1. an animal with one horn; the monoceros. this name is often applied to the rhinoceros.
    2. The sea unicorn is a fish of the whale kind, called narwal, remarkable for a horn growing out at his nose.
    3. A fowl.
    fossil unicorn or fossil unicorn’s horn, a substance used in medicine, a terrene crustaceous spar.
    Nary a pretty, prancing, rainbow glittered, one-horned pony to be found in all the pages of the Bible or the dictionary.

  • Casey Klahn December 25, 2019, 9:42 PM

    Merry, Christmas (I guess that’s right) to the gentle people present.

  • SoylentGreen December 26, 2019, 6:42 AM

    God rest ye merry, gentlemen… basically, Make America Great Again!

  • JM December 25, 2020, 9:30 AM

    Strong’s Hebrew
    Search results for: unicorn

    5 entries found. Showing up to 25.
    Strong’s Hebrew: 7214. רְאֵם (reem) — a wild ox
    … ; in simile of skipping, leaping, בֶּןרְֿאֵמִים Psalm 29:6 (” ” עֵגֶּל) . Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance unicorn Or rieym {reh-ame’}; or reym {rame}; or rem {rame}; from ra’am …

  • gwbnyc December 27, 2020, 2:01 PM

    there’s a comma toward the end of “Blood Meridian” and due to McCarthy being fast&loose with his puctuation might or might not be included and significantly change the thrust of the novel either or.

  • Vanderleun December 27, 2020, 5:31 PM

    Just where please.

  • gwbnyc December 27, 2020, 9:32 PM

    Somewhere in the blogs dissecting the novel it was mentioned. You might try simply searching “the comma in Blood Meridian”.

    I recall seeing it vaguely mentioned here&there while my interest in the book’s minutia increased and then found a direct reference to it on a board frequented by enthusiasts and I don’t recall which. Eventually I was led to the page.

    That’s all I have given an elder’s memory and best luck with it. There’s a reference “Notes on Blood Meridian”/Sepich that is quite useful.

    Now I have half an urge to be off to destroy that I don’t know of 😉