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Word for Wednesday: Reindeer


With just over a week to go until Christmas, we couldn’t resist choosing a Christmassy word for this week’s blog post.

The word ‘reindeer’ has been used in English since around 1400, and probably comes from a Scandinavian source like the Old Norse ‘hreindyri’. ‘Dyr’ was Old Norse for ‘animal’ or ‘beast’, and the Old English cognate was ‘deor’. ‘Hreinn’ (and the Old English ‘hran’) both likely came from the PIE ‘krei’ meaning ‘horn, head’. ‘Hreindyri’, then, translates to something like ‘horn-headed animal’.

Although reindeer have been a part of Christmas mythology since the nineteenth century, the most famous Christmas reindeer didn’t enter popular culture until 1939. Here’s an extract from last year’s blog post Three Popular Christmas Characters:

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Although most of us recognise Rudolph from the popular song, he first appeared in a booklet by Robert L. May in 1939. The booklet was distributed by a Chicago-based retailer who bought and gave away colouring books every Christmas, and who thought they would save money if they printed their own. Initially the story idea behind Rudolph’s adventure was rejected because bright red noses had negative connotations in popular culture. While at the time red noses were closely associated with alcoholics and drunkards, now we’re more likely to think of Santa’s ninth reindeer. The names we often give the other reindeer (Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen) are based on those that appear in the 1829 poem A Visit from St. Nicholas (also known as The Night Before Christmas).”

16 Dec 2015
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