Christian Christmas v. Regular Christmas?

Dennis Preston preston at MSU.EDU
Sat Dec 22 11:51:13 UTC 2007

I spose y'all wouldn't be surprised at all if friends told you they
were driving to (fill in the sin city of your local stereotype) for a
good old-fashioned atheist Christmas.

Back to the topic (as I see it). The on-the-spot processing opacity
of phonetically modified elements (not overt knowledge of the
connection) is very strong. Since the /krIs/ in Christmas is very
different  from the /krayst/ of its source (not to mention the /m^s/
reduction of /maes/, it would be interesting to know how often and
under what circumstances the association is triggered. Ideology of
the speaker/hearer would surely be relevant.

I always remember sitting in a basement beer bar drinking beer with
Polish friends when it struck me that one of the Polish words for
basement (piwnica) must have been connected to beer (piwo) - beer
storing place? It is, of course, but none of the native speakers with
me (all linguists!) had ever noticed the connection, and the phonetic
modification in the case was minimal.

This is your brain:  abcd....

This is your brain on language: xratba......

Happy holidays,


>---------------------- Information from the mail header
>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
>Subject:      Re: Christian Christmas v. Regular Christmas?
>At 8:28 PM -0500 12/21/07, David Donnell wrote:
>>Twice today I found myself surprised by the phrase "Christian Christmas".
>>First, in some article about "Christian Christmas" being celebrated in Iran.
>>Second, my wife (a South African who grew up celebrating Xmas,
>>nominally Christian) informed me that some friends of ours were
>>"driving home to South Carolina for a Christian Christmas".
>>Stop me before I go on... Should I be so surprised by "Christian Christmas"?
>Less surprised than by the Jewish ones.
>The American Dialect Society -

Dennis R. Preston
University Distinguished Professor
Department of English
Morrill Hall 15-C
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48864 USA

The American Dialect Society -

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