Fun Etymology Tuesday – Santa Claus

God jul, dear friends!

Today, I celebrate Christmas with my family in Sweden. But not only is it Christmas (for me), it is our 200th post on the blog!

Isn’t that amazing – when we started this blog about 2½ years ago, there was no telling how this was gonna go, but here we are! With a steadily growing readership, I am very happy to continue to entertain you each week. If there is anything you’re missing on the blog – please let me know!

But, it is not only Christmas Eve and our 200th post: it is also Tuesday, and as always, here is your Fun Etymology!

Today’s word is Santa Claus!

First attested in the New York Gazette as St. A Claus in 1773, this name comes to English (specifically to American English) from the dialectal Dutch Sante Klaas from Middle Dutch Sinter Niklaas.

As you might have guessed, the Dutch word refers to Saint Nicholas. The bishop of Asia Minor during the end of the Roman Empire was named the patron saint of scholars, especially of schoolchildren, and of children generally, following his death.

Image result for saint nicholas
Saint Nicholas

Saint Nicholas is actually still visible in some variations of the Santa suit.

Santa is often associated with the red suit with white fur trimmings, which can be attributed to Thomas Nast. Nast first dressed Santa in a red suit in an 1881 illustration, but the Coca Cola Company, who started its campaign with Santa in a red suit during the 1930s, is often given credit for it. Santa may, however, sometimes be dressed in long robes and a bishop’s mitre – thus calling back to Saint Nicholas.

And that is the story of Santa Claus! He may, of course, be known by other names (Father Christmas is found in English since around 1650), but regardless of the name, I do hope he brings you a merry and joyful Christmas!


Fun Etymology Tuesday – Advent

Ladies and gents! We’re getting close to the Fourth Sunday of Advent!


So, in honour of that, today’s word is Advent!

Meaning the ecclesiastical season immediately preceding Christmas, this word was attested as early as 1119 in English and as early as the 7th or 8th century in Latin so it has certainly been around for a long time!

From Latin adventus, this word means “a coming, approach, arrival”. In Church Latin, though, it has the extended sense of “the coming of the Savior”. The Latin word comes from the past participle stem of Latin advenire, meaning “arrive at, come to” and can be divided into two parts:

ad-, a word-forming element that expresses direction toward something or in addition to something. The Latin word ad – meaning “to, toward” in space or time or “with regard to, in relation to” as a prefix – comes from the PIE root *ad-, meaning “to, near, at”.

ventus, which comes from venire, meaning “to come”. This word comes from a suffixed form of the PIE root *gwa-, meaning “to go, come”.

And that is the history of advent!

Next Tuesday is Christmas Eve, which means that I’ll be celebrating Christmas and have an armful of nephews to play with! But don’t fret, I am ever faithful to my dear followers!

Welcome back next week and learn the etymological origin of
Santa Claus!

Fun Etymology Tuesday – Reindeer

One week closer to Christmas! And, as promised, another Christmas-related word: reindeer!

Of course, most of us know the story of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer and Santa’s request for aid on a foggy Christmas Eve, but where does the word reindeer come from?

Well, most likely, it came from my own little area of the world: Scandinavia. Borrowed into English around 1400, it is most likely from Old Norse hreindyri, meaning reindeer.

This word can be divided in two: hrein and dyr(i).

Hrein– is from the word hreinn, the usual name of the animal. You can see it preserved in the modern descendants of Old Norse (Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Icelandic) today:

Ren (or rensdyr)Rein (or reinsdyr)RenHreindýr

Interestingly, you can’t actually say *rendjur in Swedish, referring to the reindeer, which you seem to be able to do in the other descendants of Old Norse. As a native Swedish speaker, trust me, it sounds really weird and is certainly incorrect.

I wonder why that is.

Anyway. Hreinn comes from Proto-Germanic *khrinda, which is also the source of the Old English word hran, also meaning reindeer. *khrinda likely comes from PIE *krei, from the root *ker-, meaning horn or head. That totally makes sense; have you ever seen the horns of a reindeer? They’re magnificent.

Image result for reindeer

The PIE word may also be related to Greek krios, meaning ram, and some sources further connect it to words in Sami and Finnish.

Dyr simply means animal and corresponds to Old English deor (which later became deer). From Proto-Germanic *deuzam, meaning (wild) animal. The Proto-Germanic word likely comes from PIE *dheusom, which, rather unspecifically, simply means creature that breathes (and isn’t human).

And that is the story of reindeer!  

Fun Etymology Tuesday – Buck (but really, its about julbocken)

The first Tuesday of December and Norway is definitely showing its winter-y side! So, today, let’s immerse ourselves in Christmas-related etymology!

Today’s word is buck!

From c. 1300, this word has come to mean male deer in English, but before that, it referred to a male goat. The word comes from Old English bucca, meaning male goat, from Proto-Germanic *bukkon.

The Proto-Germanic word may have come from PIE *bhugo, which is also said to be the source of Avestan buza “buck, goat”, and Armenian buc “lamb”. Some, however, say that it might be from a lost pre-Germanic language.

Fairly straight-forward etymology, really, unless you want to look very closely into the lost pre-Germanic idea. So why am I telling you about a buck as a Christmas-related word?

Well, as you may know by now, I’m from Sweden.

In Sweden, Julbocken (often translated as the Yule Goat as English has mostly lost the word buck in reference to a male goat) has a very long history.

Julbocken goes back to ancient Pagan traditions, potentially connecting with ancient Proto-Slavic beliefs. The god honored in these beliefs was Devac (or Dazbog), who was represented by a white goat. The festivities therefore always included a person dressed as a goat, who demanded offerings in the form of presents.

Eventually, though, julbocken became the giver of gifts rather than the recipient, and this actually remained the case in the Scandinavian countries until as late as the second half of the 19th/beginning of the 20th century, when it was replaced by Father Christmas/Santa Claus.

But, it remains a very popular ornament in Scandinavian countries and in my own native country, a massive julbock called Gävlebocken is built up in the city of Gävle every year.

Image result for Gävlebocken

In a traditional prank (that tends to get on people’s nerves), it is usually lit on fire soon after its unveiling.

Image result for Gävlebocken
However sad that is, now, you know the story of buck and julbocken!

I hope that you enjoyed that little piece of Christmas-related history, because every week until Christmas, Fun Etymology will give you one Christmas-related word and tell you about its history!

Is there a Christmas-related word that you’ve always wondered where it came from? Let me know! (One can never have too much inspiration in life!)

Until next time!