'Tis the season for mangling Christmas phrases

The holiday season offers revelers countless opportunities to stumble over archaic English phrases, unlikely homonyms, and unexamined carol lyrics.

Franciso Medina/Casa Grande Dispatch/AP
An Arizona woman trims her Christmas tree in her own way, in 1997.

Lo, through centuries dark and deep cometh the yuletide vocabulary donned now by the Google doodle so we can all fa-la-la-la-la our collective Christmas bliss back a few centuries and, in so doing, find comfort and joy in words and phrases that both gain and lose meaning with age.

This leads us to the 12 dazes of Christmas.

1. ‘Tis, it’s, it is and t’is the season for confusion over the spelling, meaning, pronunciation and lyrics using Old (Olde?) English-ish words and phrases that ‘twere in carols and Christmas tales back in the day.

For the record, it’s correctly rendered "‘tis" which is a contraction of "it is." The rule with contractions is that we put the apostrophes where the letters, not the spaces, are missing.

"‘Tis" and "‘twas" largely became verbally extinct in the late 1800s, we bring them back to life each holiday season like dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, with much the same bizarre results.

For those who choose not to go deep into the etymological paint, this is the season to just randomly toss in extra letters, punctuation and hope for the best. 

2. For starters we get Santa Claus modified by adding an “e” at the end or a “w” in place of the “u.” In those cases he either becomes part of a legal document or Wolverine’s portly older brother.

3. In many cases it seems just the word Christmas itself can give folks trouble in the spelling department.

Christmas easily becomes "Christmass" on everything from cakes to cards.

So far this year, the international press reports that in England a discount retailer called Poundland delighted shoppers with their mistakes on garlands that read “Merryy Cristmas,” “Merry Ctristmas,” and even “Msrrh Cyristmas.”  

4. In Singapore a political candidate Lim Biow Chuan had banners put up all over town earlier this month wishing everyone a “Marry Christmas.”

5. That last one’s actually salvageable if he just adds an exclamation point to make it “Marry! Christmas.” In old English it would indicate how surprised we all are when the holiday is here before we know it.

However, if everyone knew both the grammar etiquette and the true meaning of lyrics it would be a lot less merry and marry this season because nobody would make hilarious mistakes when singing carols.

TIME Magazine and the website Library Anything have each come up with lists of the most common caroling errors including but not limited to:

6. “We three kings disorient are,” is all about confusion in a modern world.

7. In “Jingle Bells” kids often get their modes of conveyance mixed-up. “Bashing through the snow in a one horse open slay,” is just a bit more violent than the correct lyrics.

8. “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” lyrics become “Grandma got run over by a reindeer walkin’ home from outhouse on Christmas Eve.” (Should be “our house.”)

9. On the bright side, a popular new holiday children’s book and film from Matt "The Simpsons" Groening was based on one such commonly misheard lyric from Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer which spawned “Olive the Other Reindeer.”

10. "Joy to the World! The Lord has drums," is what you get when you confuse the subject of the Christian holiday with the popular tale of The Little Drummer Boy. In other cases, the “Lord has gum.”

11. In “Winter Wonderland” the word conspire converts to “Later on, we’ll perspire as we lay by the fire.”

12. Of course poor old "Good King Wenceslas" written by John Mason Neale and published in 1853 never really stood a chance. He’s become everything from “Wencelstecelstout” to “Ocelot.”

The joy will continue to spread since this kind of faux pas isn’t limited to Christmas.

One of the most commonly misunderstood of the ancient words comes not from England but Scotland and is popular each New Year’s Eve as people may mistakenly croon, “Should old acquaintance be forgot and never paid no mind!”

That chestnut literally never gets “auld.”

The correct lyric: "Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind, should auld acquaintance be forgot and days of auld lang syne"

The original Scottish lyrics translate to “times gone by” and is about remembering friends from the past and not letting them be forgotten.

Of course any song lyric can be misheard in any age. For instance, back in the 1980s, Pat Benatar did not sing, “Hit me with your pet shark.” 

Yet, once the wrong word is in your head, ‘tis hard to find the right one.

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