• blithe •
Pronunciation: blaidh • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Joyous, giddily happy, happy to the point of ignoring reality. 2. Without thought, casual, lighthearted, nonchalant.
Notes: The comparative this extremely beautiful word is blither, in contrast to the verb blither blidhêr, as in 'blithering idiot'. The superlative is blithest, and blithely is the adverb. Blithesome is an odd variant with a superfluous adjective suffix tacked onto an adjective. It simply retains the original meaning, "cheerful." When the Scots were blithe to meet a newborn child, blithemeat "happy food" was served, a term from the time when meat meant simply "food," as it does in mincemeat.
In Play: I'm for returning to the old Scottish greeting, "I'm blithe to meet you" though I will probably attract few to the cause. In the US we tend to overuse the adverb without its central meaning, as in "He blithely understated her qualifications", meaning he did so simply without thought rather than as a result of being carried away with happiness. Today's word retains its sense of joy, as Percy Bysshe Shelley used it to address his skylark:
Hail thee, blithe spirit! Bird thou never wert—
That from heaven or near it
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.
Word History: Today's word comes from Old Germanic blithiz "gentle, kind"; possibly from the verbal stem bli- "to shine." It is related to Gothic bleiths "kind, merciful", and is akin to Swedish blid "mild, soft" and Dutch blij "glad." However, it seems to be without cognate outside the Germanic languages. It is unrelated to blither, which is a dialectal variant of blether, itself a reduction of Middle English blather, which English borrowed from Old Norse blathra "to talk stupidly".