• Yule •
Pronunciation: yul • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, proper
Meaning: Christmas, Noel.
Notes: Dictionaries disagree as to whether this word should be capitalized. The Oxford English and Merriam-Webster dictionaries list it uncapitalized; the American Heritage and most others capitalize it. Since it is the name of a holiday, we think it should be capitalized. The period around Yule is Yuletide, paralleling Christmastide, using the original meaning of tide, "time".
In Play: Before the advent of central heating and climate control, when renewable wood was the primary fuel for heating homes, the biggest of the logs cut for winter heating was saved for Christmas: the Yule log. It would make Christmas the warmest day of the winter and burn the longest, so that those living in the house could focus their attention on other things.
Word History: Today's Good Word was passed down to us from Old English geól, the predecessor of Christmas, which replaced it in the 12th century. It originally referred to a heathen Winter Solstice feast. The Old Norse (Viking) correlate of this word, jól, may well have been borrowed by late Latin and formed into an adjective jol-ivus. If so, it would explain the Old French word jolif "gay, festive", which today is joli "nice, pretty". The original jolif was borrowed by Middle English and ultimately converted into jolly, as in, coincidentally, Jolly Old Saint Nicholas. (We wish an especially happy Yule to Rodger Collins for suggesting such a Good seasonal Word.)