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Archaic Christmas Carol Words And Phrases Explained

If your friends and family enjoy belting out a yule tide tune as much as mine do then you're probably quite familiar with Christmas songs like It Came Upon A Midnight Clear, Jingle Bells and Deck The Halls.

And even though we know all the words and sing these songs and more during Christmastime every year the lyrics contain certain archaic words and phrases that leave us wondering what the hell the songwriters were talking about.

"Bells on bobtail ring?" That refers to a horse's tail that has been cut short, which bells were sometimes hung on for decoration.

"Troll the ancient yuletide carol?" That doesn't mean carolers were going around trolling people all over town, it means they were singing loudly and clearly so all could hear.

"Still through the cloven skies they come?" This doesn't refer to a cloven-hooved cow angel descending from heaven, it means the clouds have cloven (parted or split) so the angels can come down and sing. Regular humanoid angels, not mooing cow angels with teats a-flutter, although that would be way cooler.

Read 10 Archaic Christmas Carol Words Explained at Mental Floss


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No news here. Mental Floss is getting pretty lame. Notice all the weasel words in the piece. "I suppose" and "can be a word."
"'Bells on bobtail ring?' That refers to a horse's tail that has been cut short, which bells were sometimes hung on for decoration." Nope. The bells ware attached to the harness--not the horse.
Matins is not an Anglican word. It predates Henry VIII's church by about 15 centuries. Matins is derived from Latin matutinum or matutinae, meaning "of the morning" usually at cock-crow. Anyone who has read the "Brother Cadfael" mysteries or "The Name of The Rose"is familiar with the term.
Coursers were fast horses used in medieval warfare. Coursers were used for cavalry-style fast attacks, as opposed to destriers, which were the heavily armored war horses. Coursing is the pursuit of game by dogs—chiefly greyhounds and other sighthounds. It was finally outlawed in 2004--unless you are using dogs to kill rabbits or rats.
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OK, 'fess up. How many of these did you already know (or figure out from context)? Me, I only did not know 'troll' or 'matin.' Did stumble on 'courser' because I knew the French version 'coursier' which means a fast messenger.
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