We sing the same popular Christmas carols all through our lives, with lyrics memorized long ago. It often takes a child to point out that they make no sense. Or no sense to them, at least. The weird grammar used in Christmas songs can sometimes be blamed on the conventions of rhythm and rhyme, but other times, it's because the songs have been handed down to us from a time when the English language was different. For example,
2. Troll the ancient Yuletide carol
Trolling a carol might sound like some obnoxious attempt to undermine it, but it’s actually a great way to get in the holiday spirit. According to the OED, one of the meanings of “troll,” in use since the 16th century, is “to sing in a full, rolling voice; to chant merrily or jovially.” It’s related to the sense of rolling, or passing around, and probably came to be used to mean singing because of rounds, where the melody is passed from one person to the next. The modern, obnoxious sense of troll comes from a much later importation from Scandinavian mythology. People have increasingly been changing this line to “toll the ancient Yuletide carol” (now over 17,000 hits on Google). Don’t let the trolls win! Let’s troll the trolls by dragging this word back to the cheery side!
Linguist Arika Okrent explains five other Christmas lyrics that don't jibe with modern English as we know it at Mental Floss.
(Image credit: Flickr user anoldent)