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Christmas, Spelling, and Structured Word Inquiry

Christmas, Spelling, and Structured Word Inquiry

Learn more about Structured Word Inquiry (SWI) by studying the spellings of some vocabulary words related to the Christmas holiday: Christmas, Yuletide, decoration, angel, mistletoe, ornament, poinsettia, fruitcake, eggnog, and gingerbread.

Structured Word Inquiry

English spelling is rule-based. There are no exceptions, just more rules to uncover. I have yet to find a word whose spelling cannot be explained. Structured Word Inquiry (SWI) is a means by which to study spelling. One can use SWI to investigate spelling by asking four questions:

1.) What does a word mean?
2.) How is the word built?
3.) What are morphological and etymological relatives of the word?
4.) What are the sounds that matter? What are the letters doing?

The questions are to be investigated in order.

Christmas Vocabulary

Christmas

1.) Noun: a religious and a secular holiday celebrated on December 25

2.) compound word (a word made of more than one word)

Christ + Mas -> Christmas

from the Middle English Cristemasse, from the Old English CrīstesmæsseCrīstes mæsse means “Christ’s mass.” Mæsse comes from the ecclesiastical Latin missa, meaning “dismissal, prayer at the conclusion of a liturgy, liturgy, mass.” Crīst (genitive Crīstes) comes from the Greek Khrīstos (Χριστός), a translation of the Hebrew Māšîaḥ or Messiah, meaning “anointed.” The phrase Crīstesmæsse was first recorded in 1038 and the word Cristes-messe in 1131.

3.)

Christ + Mas + es -> Christmases (The -es adds a syllable.)
Christ + Mas + y -> Christmassy
Christ + Mas + Time -> Christmastime
Christ + Mas + Tide -> Christmastide
Christ + Mas + Berry -> Christmasberry

Christ + en -> christen
re + Christ + en -> rechristen

Christ + i + an -> Christian
Christ + i + an + s -> Christians

Christ + o + Loge + y -> Christology
Christ + o + Loge + ic + al -> Christological

Michael + Mas -> Michaelmas (September 29)
Candle + Mas -> Candlemas (February 2)
Lam + Mas -> Lammas (August 1)
Martin + Mas -> Martinmas (November 11)
Hallow + Mas -> Hallowmas (November 1)
Childer + Mas -> Childermas (December 28)

4.) The <ch> is a digraph, or two letters that spell one sound. The digraph <ch> spelling [k] usually occurs in words of Greek origin (school, stomach).

The <t> in Christmas is zeroed and makes a relationship with related words such as Christian and Christ.

Christmas

Yuletide

1.) Noun: the Christmas season, archaic term for Christmas

2.) compound word (a word made of more than one word)

Yule + Tide -> Yuletide

Old English geolgeola “Christmas Day, Christmastide,” which is cognate with Old Norse jol

Old English tid “point or portion of time, due time, period, season; feast-day, canonical hour”

Yule: a wintertime holiday celebrated by Germanic peoples
Tide: time

3.)

Yule + Tide + s -> Yuletides
Yule + Fest -> Yulefest
Yule + Fest + s -> Yulefests
Christ + Mas + Tide -> Christmastide

4.) The replaceable <e> marks the phonology of the <u> and <i>.

Yuletide

Decoration

1.) Noun: (1) the act of adorning, embellishing, or honoring; ornamentation, (2) that which adorns, enriches, or beautifies

2.) complex word (a word that contains prefixes and/or suffixes)

Decor(e) + ate + ion -> decoration

from Medieval Latin decorationem (nominative decoratio), noun of action from past-participle stem of Latin decorare “to decorate, adorn, embellish, beautify,” from decus (genitive decoris) “an ornament; grace, dignity, honor”

Decor(e): fitting, suitable
-ate: forms a verb
-ion: forms a noun

3.)

Decor(e) + ate + ion + s -> decorations
Decor(e) -> decor
Decor(e) + ate -> decorate
Decor(e) + ate + s -> decorates
Decor(e) + ate + ed -> decorated
Decor(e) + ate + ing -> decorating
re + Decor(e) + ate -> redecorate
over + Decor(e) + ate -> overdecorate
un + Decor(e) + ate + ed -> undecorated
Decor(e) + ate + ive -> decorative
Decor(e) + ate + or -> decorator
Decor(e) + ous -> decorous

4.) The <i> marks the phonology of the <t>.

decoration

Angel

1.) Noun: (1) a ministering spirit or divine messenger, (2) a person of exemplary conduct or virtue

2.) free base

Angel

from a fusion of Old English engel and Old French angele, both of which came from Late Latin angelus, from Greek angelos.

3.)

Angel + s -> angels
Angel + ic -> angelic
ev + Angel + ic + al -> evangelical
Angel + a -> Angela
Angel + ic + a -> Angelica
Arch + Angel -> archangel
Angel + Fish -> angelfish
Angel + o + Loge + y -> angelology

4.) Only the <el> spelling is possible across the word family. The <e> also marks the phonology of the <g>.

Angel

Mistletoe

1.) Noun: a parasitic plant with white berries traditionally used as a Christmas decoration (The custom of hanging it at Christmas and kissing under it is mentioned by Washington Irving, who helped create modern Christmas.)

2.) compound word (a word made of more than one word)

Mistle + Toe -> mistletoe

Old English mistiltan, from mistel “mistletoe” (see missel) + tan “twig”

missel, from Old English mistel “basil, mistletoe”

3.)

Mistle + Toe + s -> mistletoes
Mistle + Toe + ed -> *mistletoeed -> mistletoed

4.) The <t> is an etymological marker (castle, whistle). The first <e> adds a vowel to the second syllable. The <oe> is a digraph.

Mistletoe

Ornament

1.) Noun: a thing used to make something look more attractive but usually having no practical purpose, a decoration

Verb: to decorate with ornaments

2.) free base

1200, ournement, “an accessory; something that serves primarily for use but also may serve as adornment; ornamental apparel, jewels,” from Old French ornement “ornament, decoration,” and directly from Latin ornamentum “apparatus, equipment, trappings; embellishment, decoration, trinket,” from ornare “to equip, adorn,” from stem of ordo “row, rank, series, arrangement”

3.)

Ornament + s -> ornaments
Ornament + ed -> ornamented
Ornament + ing -> ornamenting

Orn + ate -> ornate
ad + Orn -> adorn

4.)

Ornament

Poinsettia

1.) Noun: a small Mexican shrub with large showy scarlet bracts surrounding the small yellow flowers popular as a houseplant at Christmas

2.) complex word (a word that contains prefixes and/or suffixes)

Poinsett + i + a -> poinsettia

1836, Modern Latin, in recognition of Joel R. Poinsett (1779-1851), American ambassador to Mexico, who is said to have brought the plant to the attention of botanists in 1828

-i-: connecting vowel

-a: word-forming element in names of countries, diseases, animals, and plants

3.)

Poinsett + i + a + s -> poinsettias

4.) The <oi> is a diagraph. The double <tt> is a digraph. The final <i> can spell the phone [i] or the zero phone.

Poinsettia

Fruitcake

1.) Noun: a cake containing dried fruit and nuts

2.) compound-complex word (a word that contains prefixes and/or suffixes)

Fru + it + Cake -> fruitcake

The word fruit comes from Old French fruit and ultimately from Latin fructus. The twin English bases <fru> and <fruct> came from Latin fructus. (Consider fruit and fructose, which is a sugar found in fruit.) Fruit is a complex word that consists of two morphemes: the base <fru> and the suffix <it>. (<it> and <ite> are both Latin suffixes.)

from Old Norse kaka “cake”

3.)

Fru + it + Cake + s -&g; fruitcakes
Fru + it -> fruit
Fru + it + ion -> fruition
Fru + it + y -> fruity
Fru + it + ful -> fruitful
Fru + it + ed -> fruited
Fru + it + age -> fruitage
un + Fru + it + ful -> unfruitful
un + Fru + it + ful + ly -> unfruitfully
Cake + s -> cakes
Cup + Cake -> cupcake
Pan + Cake -> pancake
Short + Cake -> shortcake

4.) The <i> spells the zero phone. Compare fruit and fruition. The replaceable <e> marks the phonology of the <a>.

Fruitcake

Eggnog

1.) Noun: a traditional Christmas drink made with beaten eggs and milk and sometimes alcohol

2.) compound word (a word made of more than one word)

Egg + Nog -> eggnog

1775, American English, from egg + nog “strong ale”

egge, mostly in northern England dialect, from Old Norse egg

1690s, “old, strong type of beer brewed in Norfolk,” of unknown origin; perhaps related to noggin

3.)

Egg + Nog + s -> eggnogs
Egg + s -> eggs
Nog + s -> nogs
Nog + y -> noggy
Egg + y -> eggy
Egg + Shell -> eggshell

4.) The double <gg> is a lexical spelling.

Eggnog

Gingerbread

1.) Noun: a cake-like cookie made with molasses and flavored with ginger

2.) compound word (a word made of more than one word)

Ginger + Bread -> gingerbread

late 1200s, gingerbrar, “preserved ginger,” from Old French ginginbrat “ginger preserve,” from Medieval Latin gingimbratus “gingered,” from gingiber (see ginger). The ending changed by folk etymology to -brede “bread,” a formation attested by mid-1300s. Meaning “sweet cake spiced with ginger” is from 1400s

from Old English gingifergingiber, from Late Latin gingiber, from Latin zingiberi, from Greek zingiberis

Old English bread

3.)

Ginger + Bread + s -> gingerbreads
Ginger + Bread + ed -> gingerbreaded
Ginger + Bread + y -> gingerbready

4.) The <ea> is a digraph, or two letters that spell one sound.

Gingerbread

Image Credits

Christmas, Spelling, and Structured Word Inquiry: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Heart_shaped_cookies.jpg and https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Christmas_Tree_and_Presents.jpg

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