Clickity click via VanderLeun, an explanation of the proper punctuation and meaning of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen”.
The phrase is totally misunderstood by modern ears, due to the shift in the meaning of the word “rest”, which any student of a modern Romance language will know means “keep” or “remain”. (‘Rester’ in French, ‘restare’ in Italian, ‘restāre’ in Latin). So in this case, “rest” in English means to “keep”, “cause to remain”, or simply, “make” in the modern parlance. It does NOT mean ‘take a nap’ in this context.
“Merry” is also misheard by the modern ear as “happy”. No, no. Merry in early modern English means “mighty” or “great”. Armies were described as “merry”. As were Robin Hood’s men (saving discussion of the Robin Hood motif and its wicked socialist message for another time.)
And finally, the little comma. Punctuation saves lives, folks. I’ve said it for years. (“Let’s eat Grandma!” vs. “Let’s eat, Grandma!”)
The modern ear, having misunderstood the meaning of the verb “rest” misplaces the comma thusly:
God rest ye, merry Gentlemen.
God let you take a nap, happy men. Um… NO.
The proper placement of the comma is AFTER “merry”:
God rest ye merry, Gentlemen.
God make you great and mighty, Men!
With this in mind, let us enjoy anew this lovely Christmas Carol. Sing along!
And, again, a blessed and very MIGHTY Christ’s Mass to you all!