Word of the Day


Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


happy and lively

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The adjective merry was inherited from Germanic and had various meanings in Old English that are now obsolete. It was first used in English with its current meanings in the 14th century.


Merry has a couple of standard meanings and occurs in a number of compounds and fixed phrases. The ‘happy and lively’ sense is now regarded as old-fashioned, as is the subsidiary meaning of ‘making you feel happy and lively’. In informal British English, merry also means slightly drunk, and if someone says ‘We all got a bit merry‘ this meaning is the one they have in mind. A merry-go-round is a funfair ride with animals or vehicles that you sit on as it rotates, while merry-making is noisy fun and enjoyment. To go on your merry way is to proceed without much thought, while to lead someone a merry dance means the opposite of what it seems to mean, as it involves misleading them and causing them trouble. By far the strongest connection of merry, however, is with the noun Christmas. We don’t wish people a merry birthday or a merry New Year, a merry Hanukkah or a merry anything else: happy is the usual adjective on those occasions. But merry goes with Christmas (or Xmas) as holly does with ivy, chestnuts with open fires, or bells and reindeer with Santa’s sleigh. Merry Christmas!


“If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”
(Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol)

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.
(song by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane)

Related words

cheerful, blithe, jolly, jovial

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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