Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Thing a week 08 - What do you mean, “Bah! Humbug!”?

It may surprise people to learn that I really like this time of year. I like the cold, I love the snow (which we’ve actually been getting this year) and I really love the dark mornings when I’m out and about early before most people are even up. It’s a strange but in a really good way feeling to walk through the city when it’s practically deserted.

That said however, I’m not a fan of Christmas. It looms there like a dark cloud to blight what could be a great time of year. For any newcomers to the blog, go and check last Decembers entry for a good old fashioned Christmas rant where I vent a narrow slice of spleen over the glib fetid stench that is the modern Christmas. I don’t cover most of the reasons it’s bad, but I make a start. In this blog however I’m not going to moan about the stolen pagan festival though. It will probably come in a week or two because I know you all love to hear an ill thought out rant on the keyboard. Today I thought I’d pay homage to the little silver lining that comes with being a Christmas grump.

May the force be with you and protect you if you should dare speak out against Christmas. Point out to the most ardent environmentalist that they are using enough electricity on ridiculous lights and ten trees worth of wrapping paper or talk to a dedicated economist about the irony of people getting into debt buying presents they can’t afford in the middle of a credit crunch or mention to anyone that you think 3 tonnes of tinsel is just a bit too much and bordering on tacky and you will invariably be met with one of a limited number of responses. My favourite of these being the wonderful Bah! Humbug!

Bah! Humbug! It’s a great thing to hear. There are a couple of reasons I love it. First is the simple sound of it. How often in the general course of a year do you actually hear someone say Bah! out loud. Never. From January to November you’d be lucky to get this super syllable once, then suddenly it’s everywhere, and Humbug is a great word to say. It feels good coming out of the mouth. Try it yourself now. Hummmm, B’ug, Fantastic! almost as good as carbuncle or dumpling. Secondly and most importantly is the little internal smile I get at the thought of humbugs. I don’t have a sweet tooth. I was the freaky kid at school who preferred fruit to chocolate. But there’s something about humbugs that are just gorgeous. They’re so nice, and again, they feel great in your mouth.

Of course the Christmas bores aren’t referring to the delicious sweets. They’re quoting... anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
Well done, it’s the catch phrase of the awesome Scrooge from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. But where did he get it from? What does the word mean?

Well from the on-line dictionary we have this,

Pronunciation: \ˈhəm-ˌbəg\
Function: noun
Etymology: origin unknown
Date: 1751
1 a: something designed to deceive and mislead b: a wilfully false, deceptive, or insincere person
2: an attitude or spirit of pretence and deception
3: nonsense, drivel
4: British : a hard usually mint flavoured candy

and from the first three definitions we can see what Scrooge was getting at. Already in the 1840s, Dickens, through Scrooge, was sick of the crass commercialisation of the Christmas festival and how it had become false and deceptive and drivel and needed an outside force (four of them in fact in the story) to bring back the true meaning. Ironic really that it is now said as an attempt to put down any comments against the nonsense and pretence that has overtaken the modern Christmas. I wonder if it makes Dickens spin in his grave as much as Orwell does every time Big Brother is on the TV. Ahhh to the miss-represented classic. The fourth definition is the best though.

Still, I don’t want to be labelled a grump so I wish anyone reading, happy Saturnalia.

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