Sunday, December 18, 2016


This is my favorite traditional Christmas carol; it may be my favorite version as well:

What's not to like about it?  Even the title has two old timey words: "Hark" and "herald."

"Hark" is of course an imperative mood form of the verb "to hearken," to listen.  The Germans preserve this word in their verb horchen, to listen, (not to be confused with their word hören which mean to hear).

"Herald" is fuzzier. The old meaning is "messenger." In the song title, "herald" is an adjective modifying angels. So, a modern translation of the song title might be: "Listen! The Messenger Angels Sing"

But the Anglo-Saxon roots of this song are even deeper than I suspected. First of all, the song is old -- first dating from 1739. According to Wiki, the original first couplet was "Hark how all the Welkin rings." "Welkin" is an archaic English word meaning heavens (lit. clouds). German/Dutch speakers may recognize their modern cognate words Wolke/welk. The lyrics evolved in the 18th and 19th centuries to what we have now.

There are richer, even deeper linguistic connections to the past in that song's lyrics, if you care to dig there.


AllenS said...

Those collars went out of style a long time ago, me thinks.

ndspinelli said...

Great song. As an adult, my siblings and I would all go to the house we grew up in for Christmas. We would have 1 or 8 adult beverages and walk around the neighborhood, caroling. Some neighbors would join our disjointed group. My younger sister was in choir and this was our most repeated carol under her direction. I can't sing for shit. Bourbon only made my bad voice louder.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

King by birthright?

Sounds suspiciously un-American.

deborah said...

A favorite of mine, too. So uplifting. Best song to end Christmas Eve services/Mass on, I think.

rhhardin said...

Hank the herald angel is the leader.

deborah said...


Chip Ahoy said...

I just now watched (partway) 18 versions of this in ASL and BSL (they all suck)


This woman shows you all the words used in the song and then sings it Acapulco xxxx all capulco xxxxxxx ack a polko xxxxxx just her voice.

And the whole time I'm going, "Let me condition your hair. I have this really good stuff that will work for you. One little dab boom all soft and flowing again. I'll tie it back and get it out of the way. That and a new bra fitted for you and you'll fell like a million bucks."

I notice the people do not take advantage of "new" and "born" going together so well. The two signals are made for each other perfectly. And born is a fetus coming out of a pregnant woman from the bottom and yet over 18 videos I do not see a pregnant woman giving birth. I do not see "new" All that I see in all of the videos is "blah blah king" The "newborn" ligature is so graphic it's not even funny and yet I don't see a single birth. There's just hands flapping around and no graphic pantomime to it. It could be so clear, especially after seeing the dry hair woman explain each separate word. You should see this song quite clearly but they prefer flapping signaling instead. I don't get it.

Angels start out looking like fairies. The fingertips touch the shoulder then turn outward to display the full set of wings. But if you don't hold that connection between shoulders and wings back there then it looks more like "responsibility" + "hurray." See it? The flattened palms like sideways "stop" are the wings attached at the shoulders. Not in front of the body. And not flapping like a flying duck. Come on!

I like the interpreters who say "hark" with a cupped hand behind the ear for "listen" and not hooked fingers pulling airwaves into the ear.

The coarse hair explaining lady has her video reversed. Her video clearly shows her dominant hand is left. All her signs are left handed. But she says that her dominate hand is her right hand. So we viewers go, pffft, not in your video. It's self-contradicting.

And in these ways there is something wrong with each one of them. Another has the speed up too high so the singers sound like chipmunks. When slowed to .5 then it's way too slow.

Others are too flowery, too expansive, like melodrama or like performance art.

All except this little hard of hearing girl dressed as an angel. She interprets only one stanza. And she's just too precious.

If you watch the straw-haired woman explaining the vocabulary and signals the watch the little girl you will see the signs really do comport.

chickelit said...

AllenS said...
Those collars went out of style a long time ago, me thinks.

They do look uncomfortable. But you can tell that some of those boys are putting their hearts into it.

Methadras said...

My favorite old world piece of music is still Pie Jesu. There are only few singers on earth who can nail it right and when they do, you'd have to be a black, cold hearted sub-human animal to not let that piece of music start the water works.