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  • Paul Anthony Jones


Ah, it comes round quicker each year, doesn’t it? No, not The X Factor (although, yeah, that too actually) but Christmas. And this week over on our YouTube channel—in the penultimate episode in our 500 Words series—we looked at 10 words you’ll doubtless find utterly indispensable this holiday season:

Mobling. Pecks-of-apples. Rumballs. Yule-shards and yule-holes. It’s Christmas list like no other.

But when it came to pulling this shortlist together, a few weirdly and wonderfully obscure festive words had, regrettably, to fall by the wayside. For instance sonrock is an old Irish dialect word for a cosy chair by a fireplace. Snow-bones are the elongated lines of snow left by the sides of roads and pathways. And that giant ball of snow you make by rolling a snowball along so that it grows bigger and bigger? That’s a hogamadog (which probably derives from an old dialect word for snail).

One more word that could have made this list—and a verb that you’ve probably been doing recently whether you’ve realised it or not—is boun. According to the English Dialect Dictionary, to boun is “to decorate with evergreens at Christmas”. These days, those “evergreens” are more likely to be paper or plastic than they are actual evergreen branches and “boughs of holly”, but nevertheless bouning is clearly a useful word when Christmas rolls around—but originally, it was a lot more useful than that.

The Oxford English Dictionary traces the earliest record of boun back to the late fourteenth century, when it was originally used in a much broader sense to mean simply “to make ready”. Even earlier still, boun was an adjective in Middle English meaning “fully prepared”; the quippy turn of phrase ready and boun, or just ready-boun, was essentially a mediaeval-period equivalent of the “ready and willing” or “ready and able” we might use today.

But as time went by, confusion between the adjective boun and the verb boun—or, more specifically, its derivative bouned, meaning “readied”—led to the adjective gaining an extra letter: by the early fifteenth century, bound-with-a-D was being used to mean “prepared” or “ready to go”, which is, incidentally, the same bound that appears in in stock phrases like homeward bound and outward bound.

Likewise, around the same time the verb boun began to change. It came to be used in a handful of more specific senses, including “to dress” or “to get attired”, and it’s perhaps from there—presumably in the sense of “dressing” or “attiring” your home in readiness for Christmas—that the festive use of the word eventually developed in the late 1700s.

Frankly, it was all bound happen.