Christmas

A rumball in the bummock

This time last year I wrote about the origins of six well-known Christmas words. And because I’m not terribly imaginative, this year I’m doing much the same thing, except with obscure ones. So here are six festive words that have fallen out of favour. Unsurprisingly, a lot of them relate to overeating and boozing. Well, that’s what Christmas is all about, right?

1. Ramracketting

To ramracket is to run or jump about playfully at Christmas time. The English Dialect Dictionary defines it as ‘Christmas gambols’. I don’t know about you but I shall be ramracketting like a demon on Christmas day after a couple of shandies.

2. Yulestarn

This is a Scottish dialect word for a bright star in the sky on Christmas night. I realise it just looks like I’ve spelled ‘star’ wrong then stuck ‘Yule’ in front of it, but it’s a real word, honest. You can buy a Yulestarn hamper from Debenhams, if you’re the type of person who does things like that. Apparently it will ‘illuminate your festive celebrations’ just like ‘the Yulestarn star brightens the sky on Christmas night’. #overenthusiastic-copywriter

3. Rumball

Rumball Night is an 18th-century nickname for Christmas Eve. That’s because a ‘rumball feast’ is a big ole meal served the day before Christmas.

There’s also a Rumball Night hamper at Debenhams (I promise I’m not sponsored by Debenhams). Somebody who works at Hampers of Distinction obviously went to a lot of the same websites as I did for this blog post.

4. Bummock

Stop sniggering. This is another old Scottish word. A bummock is a large quantity of booze made for Christmas (although a bummock’s not just for Christmas – you can also make them for other special occasions). A bummock is also an old name for a Christmas party given by landlords for their tenants. I don’t know why. And I’m not sure I want to. 

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that there isn’t a bummock hamper on Debenhams’ website.

5. Bubblyjock

Yet another Scottish one. A bubblyjock is a male turkey. Unlike pretty much all the other words on this list, I’ve managed to find some actual etymology for this one. ‘Bubbly’ apparently refers to the noise a turkey makes, while ‘jock’ is an old word for ‘clown’ (apologies to anyone called Jock who might be reading this). I guess maybe because turkeys are a bit comedy looking…? (Apologies to any turkeys who might be reading this.)

Here’s a poem about a bubblyjock. Don’t say I never give you anything.

6. Crawmassing

Picture the scene. You’ve just finished Christmas lunch (which, if you’re anything like my family, means it’s probably early evening). You’ve eaten your body weight in roast food, and loosened your belt buckle a notch. Okay, two notches. But then you notice that there’s a particularly nice-looking roast potato left on your sister’s plate. And a whole pig-in-a-blanket on your dad’s. So you grab them, add some gravy, and polish them off. This going through the remnants of a Christmas meal is called crawmassing (we got there eventually).

(It’s also used to describe people who beg for gifts at Christmas, but that doesn’t paint such a cheery picture.)


So, there you go. Happy Christmas lovely reader. I hope your festive season is chock-full of bummocks, rumballs and lots of ramracketting.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you in 2019.

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A partridge in a pear tree? I’d rather have a blog on etymology

I blimmin’ love Christmas. I put my decorations up on 1 December every year without fail, then I get really depressed on Boxing Day because it’s ALL OVER. So, before that happens, here’s my Christmas gift to you – six Christmassy words and their etymology (I was going to do 12 – as in the 12 days of Christmas – but it was too many and I ran out of steam. Sorry).

1. Eggnog

Yum, eggy booze. Who on earth thought that sounded nice? Maybe that’s why we only drink it once a year. Anyway, the ‘nog’ bit of ‘eggnog’ is a 17th-century word for strong beer (looks like the English have always been lager louts) from Norfolk. And the ‘egg’ bit? Well, you can probably work that out for yourself. 

2. Carol

Nothing to do with Vorderman or King, we used to use the word ‘carol’ to talk about any celebratory song. It was the Tudors who started using it for Christmas songs only. We nicked the word ‘carol’ from our Gallic friends across the channel in the Middle Ages – a carole was French for a circle dance accompanied by singers. And they probably got it from the Italians (carola), who took it from the Latin (choraulēs – ‘flute player accompanying a chorus dance’), which came from the Ancient Greek word khoraulḗs (‘one who accompanies a chorus on the flute’). That has its roots in Proto-Indo-European language, but as you probably stopped reading a while ago, I won’t go into that.

3. Mistletoe

This one’s a bit of a mystery (a mistle-tery? Nope?). Well, ‘mistle’ is – the ‘toe’ bit’s fairly straightforward, as it comes from ‘tān’, which is an Old English word for ‘twig’. But no one’s really sure where the ‘mistle’ part came from. Wikipedia just says it’s ‘from Proto-Germanic *mihstilaz (“mistle”), from Proto-Indo-European *h₃meyǵʰ- (“to urinate”)’ which I feel merits more explanation, but sadly, doesn’t give any.

Mistletoe’s a parasitic plant, which means it sucks the nutrients out of other plants, either stunting their growth or killing them (which is why it stays green all year round, the bastard). And some of it’s poisonous. Kissing under the deadly parasitic twig doesn’t seem quite so romantic now, does it?

4. Poinsettia

The poinsettia is a Mexican plant which the ancient Aztecs called ‘cuetlaxochitl’. Presumably because no-one could pronounce that, when American ambassador Joel Roberts Poinsett bought one back with him from Mexico to the US of A they decided to name it after him. The association with Christmas comes from an old Mexican legend (which I was in a production of at primary school). You can read it here (the myth, not my primary school production).

5. Tinsel

Beloved of 80s Christmas trees, ‘tinsel’ was originally the name for a cloth that was woven with gold or silver thread. It comes from the Middle French word estincelle which means ‘spark’ or ‘spangle’.

Tinsel was invented in Nuremberg in the 17th century. Originally made from real silver, apparently it’s supposed to mimic the appearance of ice. I never knew that, even though now I do it seems blindingly obvious.

I like saying the word ‘tinsel’.

6. Yule

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Like a lot of stuff to do with Christianity, this one was stolen from paganism (technically called ‘Christanised reformulation’ fact fans). It comes from the word jól, the Norse name of a pagan festival which took place in the 12 days leading up to 25 December. It’s connected with the myth of the wild hunt (which is a pretty frickin’ awesome myth). We nicked the word jól and added it to Old English as ġéol, which morphed into ‘yule’ some time in the middle of the 1400s. I’m not really entirely sure what we use it for these days, except for making bad puns (‘yule love this festive blog post!’) and the yule log. I totally thought a yule log was a cake, but it’s an actual log which also has pagan roots (BOOM BOOM).


So, there you have it. A little bit of Christmas cheer, in blog form. Oh, and thanks for reading my word-based musings this year – here’s to plenty more in 2018.

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.