How it all started: Jul/Yule

Text: Eva-Marie Ek and Melody Sefton Publicerad: 12 december 2017
In this last Resurs of the year, we forget about grammar and style for a while and instead take a look at the origins of some seasonal terminology. SLU's language coordinators wish everyone happy holidays!

Yule derives from an Old Norse word, jól. It was once the name of a pagan festival celebrating the winter solstice that lasted 12 days. As far back as the 8th century, the word was borrowed into Old English as gol or geol, which were used as another name for December (ǽrra geóla, or “before Yule”) and January (æftera geóla, or “after Yule”). This means that, originally, yule lasted much longer than Christmas does today.

Yule log. 

When the Germanic tribes were christened, Christmas replaced yule. The original name was however kept around, and can still be seen, not least in recipes for yule log, a Bûche de Noël in French.

Unlike the English word Christmas, the French Noël or German Weihnachten, Swedish has kept the original – the word jul has no connection to Christianity.

Exchange of words: Äggtoddy/Eggnog

Nog is a 17th century word and means strong beer, in particular an ale or beer that was once brewed in Norfolk, England. Not much is known about nog before that – one explanation could be that it comes from the even older Scots word nugg, a drink warmed by stirring it with a hot metal rod. If so, eggnog can be traced to the old Scandinavian word knagg, which means metal peg or spur.

The word toddy was borrowed into Swedish in the early 19th century, and English in turn borrowed it from Hindi in the early 17th century. The original meaning is “beverage made from fermented palm sap”. The meaning ”beverage made of alcoholic liquor with hot water, sugar, and spices” was first recorded in 1786.

Edible misunderstandings – turkey and ris à la Malta

The first birds known as turkeys in English were African guinea fowl, because they were imported to Europe via Turkey. In the early 1500s, when the first Europeans came across wild turkeys in America, they wrongly assumed that they were related to the guinea fowl, so they too were called turkeys.

A popular Christmas dessert in Sweden is ris à la Malta, a rice pudding often served with pieces of orange or a fruit sauce. Does it come from Malta? No, it most likely comes from the Danish name for the dish risalamande, which in turn comes from the French riz à l’amande which means rice with almonds, which is how they eat in it France.

Summary in English

How it all started: Jul/Yule

Yule derives from an Old Norse word, jól. It was once the name of a pagan festival celebrating the winter solstice that lasted 12 days. As far back as the 8th century, the word was borrowed into Old English as gol or geol, which were used as another name for December (ǽrra geóla, or “before Yule”) and January (æftera geóla, or “after Yule”). This means that, originally, yule lasted much longer than Christmas does today.

When the Germanic tribes were christened, Christmas replaced yule. The original name was however kept around, and can still be seen, not least in recipes for yule log, a Bûche de Noël in French.

Unlike the English word Christmas, the French Noël or German Weihnachten, Swedish has kept the original – the word jul has no connection to Christianity.

Exchange of words: Äggtoddy/Eggnog

Nog is a 17th century word and means strong beer, in particular an ale or beer that was once brewed in Norfolk, England. Not much is known about nog before that – one explanation could be that it comes from the even older Scots word nugg, a drink warmed by stirring it with a hot metal rod. If so, eggnog can be traced to the old Scandinavian word knagg, which means metal peg or spur.

The word toddy was borrowed into Swedish in the early 19th century, and English in turn borrowed it from Hindi in the early 17th century. The original meaning is “beverage made from fermented palm sap". The meaning "beverage made of alcoholic liquor with hot water, sugar, and spices" was first recorded in 1786.

Edible misunderstandings – turkey and ris à la Malta

The first birds known as turkeys in English were African guinea fowl, because they were imported to Europe via Turkey. In the early 1500s, when the first Europeans came across wild turkeys in America, they wrongly assumed that they were related to the guinea fowl, so they too were called turkeys.

A popular Christmas dessert in Sweden is ris à la Malta, a rice pudding often served with pieces of orange or a fruit sauce. Does it come from Malta? No, it most likely comes from the Danish name for the dish risalamande, which in turn comes from the French riz à l’amande which means rice with almonds, which is how they eat in it France.

12 december 2017 6

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