• merry •
Pronunciation: mer-ree • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Joyful, happy, jolly, as in merry Christmas. 2. Brisk, quick as in a merry pace.
Notes: This word is seldom heard before or after Christmastide and almost never in its second meaning. It comes with two nouns: merriness, the quality of being merry, and merriment "having a good time, merrymaking". Don't forget to change the Y to I in both the nouns and the adverb, merrily.
In Play: North Americans associate this word most closely with Santa Claus: "They were having a right merry old time preparing for the Christmas party." Preparations were proceeding at a merry pace, too. "Gladys Friday left the office in a merry mood, knowing her husband had the kids for the weekend."
Word History: Today's word was inherited from Old English myrge or mirige, which meant "pleasing, agreeable". This word apparently came from Old Germanic murgya, which meant "short-lasting". The connection to "pleasure" is likely via the notion of "making time fly", suggested also in German Kurzweil "pastime" and in English pastime itself. Merry-making also suggests a pleasant way to pass the time and, as everyone knows, time flies when we are having fun. The word developed a wider set of senses in Middle English, including "pleasant" (sounding and tasting), "fine", "pretty", and the two it bears today in Modern English. (I'm sure we all wish Bonnie Shipley a merry Christmas for suggesting today's most appropriate Good Word.)