Wednesday, December 26, 2007
The Grammarian, XIV
Here's another grammatical point for all of you who like to sing Christmas carols (and who wouldn't?). In particular, this carol:
"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"
Now, class, who can tell me why it says gentlemen here? Is this sexist? Is it discriminating against women?
The answer, of course, is no. The gentlemen, boys and girls, are the shepherds. This carol is based on the angel's announcement to them in Bethlehem when Christ was born. It has the angel calling them gentlemen.
Here, then, is the grammatical point to be made: they are not being addressed as "merry gentlemen" here, but merely as "gentlemen." The word "merry" goes with "God rest ye," an old English way of saying, fear not! That's what "God rest ye merry" means.
The "ye" is not King James English, but old English; otherwise it would be poor grammar, since "ye" in KJV English is nominative plural, but in old English is used in the accusative case.
Hence, there should be a comma in the opening line, thus:
"God rest ye merry, gentlemen; let nothing you dismay . . ."