O tidings of comfortable joy!


Oh, yeah. O tidings of comfort and joy! 

Um… O come, all ye faithful, joyfully triumphant… what now? 

Right… joyful and triumphant…

OK, then. Sing we joyous, all together, heedless of the windy weather! 

…Oh, yeah: heedless of the wind and weather! 

Well, ’tis the season (sorry) for hendiadys. There’s “holy infant, so tender and mild,” there’s “light and life to all He brings,” there’s “He rules the world with truth and grace,” there’s “what fun it is to ride and sing,” there’s “above thy deep and dreamless sleep,” there’s “long lay the world in sin and error pining” – though on the other hand that song has “the stars are brightly shining” rather than “the stars are bright and shining.”

Was there an odd gift stuffed in the lexical stocking up there? Ah, yes: hendiadys. Not everyone uses this word every day. You may have inferred its meaning from the examples, but I should say that it’s not just any coordinating pair; it’s “the substitution of a conjunction for a subordination,” as Wikipedia says, or, to quote the Oxford English Dictionary, “A figure of speech in which two words are connected by a conjunction in order to express a single complex idea, e.g. nice and warm for nicely warm.”

Now, you could object to some of my examples: Could it really be “truthful grace” and mean the same thing? Or “lighted life”? How would one rephrase “sin and error”? But at the very least one could argue that they may be hendiadys. On the other hand, “a turkey and some mistletoe” could not be – everybody knows that.

And why does this word look so weird, and how is it supposed to be said? To answer the second first, the stress is on the di and the word as a whole sounds like a hoarse whisper by a movie gangster of “can die of this.” To answer the first second, it’s the Byzantine Greek phrase ἓν διὰ δυοῖν (hen dia duoin) – which means, word for word, ‘one through two’ – ironically jammed into a single word and Latinized.

Well, this time of the year, this kind of thing is my jam, even unironically. It may seem like an unduly fancy word, but you can hop off your high horse and join me behind it… What fun it is to, riding, sing a sleighing song tonight!

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