Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Wordsmith Wednedsay: Joyeux Noël ! (And how the heck did the French get "Noël" out of "Christmas"?)

The French version of "Merry Christmas" is, as you might know,  Joyeux Noël. But where did Noël come from? This week, your intrepid French student digs deep under the snowdrifts to uncover the origins.

As with much of French, the word has its origin in Latin, and is a variant of nael, from the Latin Dies natalis (the birthday of Christ). Natalis is also the origin of the French "née," "nativity," and a host of other words relating to births and origins, but Noël made its way into Old French first as Nael.

One source claims that Noël (with or without the umlaut) first appears in English in the late 14th century, but other sources, such as the Mirriam-Webster dictionary, cite its first use as only 1811.

It first appearance in theatre is with the British actor Noel Coward (source: the top of my head).

Oh, and because this is French, and you must pay attention to such things, the noun Noël is masculine.  

Joyeux Noël, tout le mond, except for war-on-Christmas soldier Bill O'Reilly, to whom I want to wish ... Bonne fête !

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