What is Christmas?

What is Christmas? Sounds like a stupid question. Everyone knows what we celebrate on December 25th. You don’t have to be a Christian to be able to give an answer. But where does the word Christmas come from and what does it mean? „Christmas” is a shortened form of Christ‘s mass. It is derived from the Middle English Cristemasse, which is from Old English Crīstesmæsse, a phrase first recorded in 1038. Crīst (genitive Crīstes) is from Greek Khrīstos (Χριστός), a translation of Hebrew Māšîaḥ (מָשִׁיחַ), Messiah, meaning anointed and mæsse is from Latin missa, the celebration of the Eucharist. In English therefore the profoundly religious meaning of the name of this great feast is more transparent than in other languages. As the celebrations are now being held around the world, amidst the merry making and the gift giving, the name of this holiday is there as a reminder that a Christmas without Christ does not make any sense.

Merry Christmas!

Small words: any

Small words: prepositions, articles, auxiliaries, quantifiers, determiners. They crop up everywhere. We hardly ever make a sentence without using at least one of these. Yet, they don’t add much to an utterance. In fact, some of them mean nothing at all. We call them fillers because we can understand a sentence without them. Take this for example: Jenny is going back to school tomorrow. The words in bold are an auxiliary verb (the verb be which helps us make the Present Continuous) and a preposition, respectively. Leave them out and you’d still understand what that statement means – a girl, Jenny, is returning to school tomorrow. That’s because the other words (Jenny – a proper noun -, go back – a verb -, school – a noun – and tomorrow -an adverb -) carry the main information in that statement. Leave these words out and you wouldn’t understand anything. This means that the words in bold have a purely grammatical function.

One of these small words I’d like to look at today is any. This word is used in various ways in English, but in this post I’d like to focus on the use of any with plural nouns in yes/no questions, i.e. questions you can answer with either yes or no. Here are some examples: Have you got any children? | Are there any apples in that basket? | There aren’t any eggs in the fridge. Please note that in our mother tongue (Romanian) we don’t use a word like that with plural nouns. We simply say: Ai copii? | Sunt mere în coșul acela? | Nu sunt ouă în frigider. For this reason, if we translate from Romanian into English we might say Have you got children?, which just doesn’t sound right in English. The same is true of the other two sentences: Are there apples in that basket?There aren’t eggs in the fridge. All three sentences are wrong because I’ve left out the word any. It’s one of those common mistakes we find in our experience as English teachers, so that’s a thing to avoid from now on.

Next time you speak or write in English, use any with plural nouns in yes/no questions or in negative sentences.

Take care

A phrase a month 1

Hello, I’ve decided to rename this post series A phrase a month because I just can’t find the time to write even a short article like this every week. That said, in my last post I looked at the phrase feel run-down (be in a poor physical condition, weak or exhausted, like during a cold or some other illness or from too much work). Run-down is an adjective obtained by conversion from the verb run down. Like many other phrasal verbs, this one has more than one meaning. Today I’ll be looking at one of them.

When you run somebody down you disparage them, you criticise them (often in an unfair way), you speak slightlingly of someone, you belittle them. Here are two examples: Don’t run her down! She’s very talented. | Please, stop running me down all the time!

Do any people you know sometimes run you down? Do you do it to others yourself? We usually run people down to make ourselves feel better. It doesn’t really work, of course. We don’t get well by doing that. As St. Ambrose of Milan used to say: No one heals himself by wounding another.

Bye for now