The Etymological Origins of Certain Words That Are Typically Used During the Holidays

In a short, festive episode of their incredibly informative whiteboard series for Mental Floss, linguist Arika Okrent and illustrator Sean O’Neill explain the origins of typical words used around the holidays such as wreath, bough, sleigh, don, manger and wassail.

Wassail comes from waes haeil meaning “be in good health. The waes part is an old form of the verb “to be”, which only survives in our past tense word “was.” Haeil comes down to us as “whole” or “hale” as in “hale and hearty.”