People are annoyed this line of ‘God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen’ doesn’t rhyme – but there’s a very good reason

17 December 2018, 09:37 | Updated: 17 December 2018, 09:40

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

The third verse of ‘God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen’ confusingly rhymes ‘wind’ with ‘mind’. Here’s why.

‘God Rest Ye Merry, Gentleman’ is one of the oldest Christmas carols in existence. In fact, it is so old that it pre-dates the modern system of harmony.

It is one of the few carols written in a minor key, and comes from the 16th century. But the earliest known printed edition was published in 1760.

It also has a slightly stilted rhyme in it, one which has vexed carollers and Tweeters for years.

Back in the 16th century, English pronunciation was pretty different. During the 15th to 18th centuries, there was a Great Vowel Shift – a series of changes in pronunciation that affected the long vowels used in English.

Long vowels shifted upwards; that is, a vowel that used to be pronounced in a lower place in the mouth would be pronounced in a different place, higher up in the mouth.

Kings College Choir Rehearse 'A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols'
Kings College Choir Rehearse 'A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols'. Picture: Getty

This means the word ‘wind’ used to be pronounced ‘waind’, as in ‘find’. It had a longer vowel, which was pronounced in a lower place in the mouth to its modern pronunciation.

The Oxford English Dictionary confirms that until a few hundred years ago, ‘waind’ used to be the normal English pronunciation for ‘wind’ when used in poetry.

Some choirmasters choose to use the Middle English pronunciation of ‘wind’, to rhyme with ‘mind’. But most choirs and carol singers tend to adopt the modern pronunciation, embracing the slightly stilted half-rhyme.

Read the full lyrics here:

God rest ye merry gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
For Jesus Christ our Saviour
Was born on Christmas Day
To save us all from Satan's pow'r
When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

From God our Heavenly Father
A blessed Angel came;
And unto certain shepherds
Brought tidings of the same,
How that in Bethlehem was born
The Son of God by Name.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

The shepherds at those tidings
Rejoiced much in mind,
And left their flocks a-feeding
In tempest, storm and wind,
And went to Bethlehem straightway
The Son of God to find.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

But when to Bethlehem they came,
Whereat this infant lay,
They found Him in a manger,
Where oxen feed on hay;
His Mother Mary kneeling down,
Unto the Lord did pray.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

Now to the Lord sing praises,
All you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace;
This holy tide of Christmas
All other doth deface.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.