Monday, December 20, 2010

All about "Eve"

No: not the wonderful movie about an ambitious young woman schemer. This is about the ambiguity of the word "eve". It can imply a time late in the day, typically between the evening meal and bedtime, but that usage is relatively rare. We tend to use the longer form--"evening"--for that. The main meaning of "Eve" is the entire day prior to some occasion or happening.

As I wrote here some months ago, another variant ("e'en") is best known for forming part of "Halloween", the day before All Hallows Day, aka "All Saints Day". Most of us consider "New Year's Eve" to be the entire day of December 31, even though we may primarily think of the time leading up to midnight, and the start of a new year in our time zone.

Likewise, "Christmas Eve" is all day on December 24, even though for some worshipers the emphasis is on the "Midnight Mass" at their church. (In most parishes, the service begins earlier. At St. Mark's, Berkeley, we begin with carols at 10:30, and start the service at 11:00, so it is about midnight before the bread and wine of "Holy Communion", the elements of the Eucharistic Banquet, are distributed.)

This year, for the first time, I heard the ghastly phrase "Christmas Eve Day". I shuddered. Then, quite recently, I heard a member of our wonderful extended-and-blended family repeat the solecism. I flinched.

Of course, I knew what the speakers were trying to do: to distinguish between the events of the working day, and the Christmas Eve celebration, which (in our family) takes place in accordance with Norwegian practice, on Christmas Eve. Call me a pedant, call me a stickler--and, yes, language (however "incorrect") is a tool we use to communicate, and the speaker's intent was clear--but, do me a favor, folks, don't bastardize Christmas Eve.

1 comment:

  1. And then there are the ghastly "evensong service" and "Eucharist service," which I see frequently in church newsletters.