It’s obvious that language evolves over time, with some words inevitably falling out of favour as the decades and centuries come and go. However, this doesn’t mean we can’t remember and appreciate them all the same.
If you are a language lover, you’ll probably be intrigued to find out which Christmas-related words were popular years ago, but are rarely heard today. Some sound completely foreign, others downright hilarious—here are 20 festive terms lost to time.
You know that crisp, crunching sound you make when you walk on iced-over snow? There is, in fact, a special term dedicated to this very occurrence—crumping. Though it differs by only one letter from the word “krumping”, it has nothing to do with the expressive street-style dance.
Gawby or gaby is an 18th-century word that means “simpleton” or “fool”. Gawby-market, however, doesn’t mean “market for fools”; this word was used to describe markets or fairs that were held on the first day of trading after Christmas.
Yule comes from an ancient Scandinavian word “jol”, which means a series of festivities celebrating the end of the year. Yuleshard or yule-jade is a person who leaves a lot of work to be done on Christmas Eve night, instead of trying to finish everything well before Christmas.
4: YULE HOLE
Many of us have experienced this phenomenon, but have called it by any number of other names: yule hole is the hole you need to move your belt to after having a delicious yet huge meal during the holidays.
Yes, another yule-related word. This one was used to describe the brightest star in the sky on Christmas night.
This word derived from Latin was used to describe a landscape covered in snow.
This word means Christmas gambols. Gambol, on the other hand, means “to jump around or to run playfully”. However, in Birmingham, the latter word also means “somersault”.
Those who don’t like to stay at home during the winter months often hiemate—i.e. spend winter elsewhere.
This word appeared in the 18th century, and was used for parties that were held in pubs on Christmas.
Mulligrubs. We’ve all been there, even if we didn’t realise what to call it. Essentially, it describes a sour, sullen mood—one that is likely to spring up during the hectic holidays. Despite being a term lost to time, this word seems to have more relevance today than ever before…
This word has two meanings. In the 18th century, it was used to describe Christmas parties that landlords held for their tenants. Bummock is also an old Scots’ word meaning a large amount of drink that was brewed for some special occasion (like Christmas).
This word’s meaning is truly beautiful. It’s derived from the Greek word meaning “to enjoy”, and was used in the 19th century to describe total devotion to enjoying yourself—which is what we should all do during the holidays.
To boun something means to decorate it with evergreen branches. This word was often used during the Christmas period, of course.
This word appeared sometime in the 1500s and was used to describe both gluttonous eating and fine food.
15: BULL WEEK
This is a Yorkshire word for Christmas. Its origins are in the 1800s, when the owners of Sheffield’s cutlery factories rewarded their workers with a whole roast bull if they managed to finish all the pre-Christmas work on time.
In the mid-1900s, scurryfunge meant “to hastily tidy a house”, usually before some unexpected guests arrive. The word might not be used these days, but some of us still scurryfunge a lot before and during the Christmas holidays.
Pourboire is a French word meaning “for drink”. In the English language, it was used to describe a cash donation or tip that was intended to be spent specifically on drink. Other gift money was called present-silver from the 1500s.
18: LUCKY BIRD
Nowadays, we call such people first-footers: yes, this is the first person that enters your home on New Year’s morning. However, in old Yorkshire folklore, these are called lucky birds.
The traditions related to lucky birds differ depending on region. Men were usually considered the most fortuitous lucky birds (dark-haired men were especially favoured in many regions). In some regions, a lucky bird had to bring a gift of coal (or whisky—this was a change that happened in the 1880s), had to be a bachelor, and had to have a high arch on the foot. People who met such demands could become almost professional lucky birds.
Even without knowing its meaning, it’s clear that “crapulence” denotes something unfortunate. Indeed, this word was used to describe sickness or indisposition occurring from excessive eating or drinking.
Crawmassing means going through the remnants of festive meals, even through the leftovers that are usually discarded by most people. The word possibly originates from “comassing”, which was used to describe a person begging for food at Christmas.
We hope you enjoyed this selection of festive terms, and encourage you to impress your friends and family this holiday season by bringing them back into style! Whether you plan to boun your hearth or move to the next yule hole, remember that the English language has long been saturated with words to describe our endless fascination and excitement surrounding the holidays.