Sunday, December 31, 2017

A Tiding on Tides

What with bright sunshine, on a very cold Nordic sort of morning, illuminating our still standing or hanging Christmas decorations, my mind suggested that soon, thus on or around January 6 of the year that dawns tomorrow, I would have to return this household to its ordinary state. Yes. For me the Christmas season began in childhood on December 6, St. Nicholas day. In Hungary we put our nicely shined shoes into the window on the evening of December 5. By morning Mikulas (as we called him) arrived; he filled our shoes with candies and fruits nicely highlighted with red paper and silver ribbons. Random thought: if a fat man can get down through a small chimney in the U.S., he can certainly breach a pane of glass in Hungary… Now at its other ends, the Christmas season always ended on January 6 for me, the day of the Magi.

Making sure that I still had all this correctly, I checked on the dates. At my age such exercises are recommended; various problems with memory surface as you overstay… In my brief research, I encountered the word “tide” multiple times, as in Christmastide and Yuletide. Very well. In eighty and counting years I’d simply accepted that word; today the question arose: Whence tide? Good question.

If you use a smart-phone as your computer—no need to get up—you rapidly learn that the only tide that seems to exist is that caused by the moon on ocean shores in two kinds of forms, ebb and flood. But in Yuletide the word must has some other root. Upstairs, therefore, to consult a real computer. Online Etymology Dictionary informs me that “tide” comes from proto-Germanic tidiz, or “time division,” thus meaning a period or season. The use of the word for shore tides came late, in the mid-14th century… The word tidings, as in news, shows how a useful concept comes about. It is rooted in the fact that as time changes, things happen. Tidings come from old English tidan, “to happen,” and that word arises from the original tide as well. The Dutch for “newspaper” is tijding pronounced exactly like “tiding”; the German is Zeitung, a word in which the z present in tidiz is prominent still.

Contemplating such mysteries, I might add, refresh one’s mind when the only tidings on TV seemingly center on how in card games one kind, or single card, trumps all the others.

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