Thanks for tuning in for another special holiday edition of Caterpickles thinking too hard about words.
This week, we’re wondering just what it means to “troll an ancient Yuletide carol.”
But first, we need to clear up a few thing about last week’s post.
Last week, we learned that bobtail has far too many meanings for one word, although only one of them — the definition that describes a specific look for a horse’s tail — has anything to do with Jingle Bells. I don’t know if you happened to read the comments on that post, but loyal Caterpickles reader Fred Rayworth, who has a fun blog of his own on the writing life, wrote in to inform me that bobtail has a fourth meaning that we hadn’t even considered. Apparently, the tow trucks the Air Force uses to pull Aerospace Ground Equipment around the airfield are also called bobtails.
Clearly, the word bobtail is in no danger of going extinct any time soon, even if the carriage industry in Chicago has fallen on hard times. Unlike leeftail, for while people still make mad dashes for certain commercial products, no one has used the word leeftail to describe those in-demand products since the great American bicycle craze of 1869.
But enough of that. Let’s get to today’s actual question.
Troll Smash Bad Song, or “How do you troll an ancient Yuletide carol?”
I don’t know when you last listened to yourself singing Deck the Hall, but that particular Christmas carol is chock full of archaic language. Yuletide, of course, is the archaic term for Christmas, which leaves us this week pondering the meaning of troll, as in “troll the ancient Yuletide carol.”
Sadly for many of us, trolling an ancient Yuletide carol doesn’t mean a fierce fairytale creature gets to smash that old holiday song to bits.
Troll in this context also doesn’t have much to do with the other definition of trolling I hear most often these days — namely the one in which someone harasses someone else by posting inflammatory messages in the comments section of their blog, online article, or Twitter feed.
We have the Brits to thank for a less well-known meaning of troll that seems closer to what we’re looking for.
According to the Collins online Dictionary, the British sometimes use the word troll to describe the act of walking or strolling. This sounds a lot like the roving bands of Christmas carolers that overtake downtown Chicago around the holidays.
It’s tempting to think that this meaning of troll is the one that we’re looking for, but it turns out there’s an even better match lurking among the extinct definitions section.
Once upon a time, to troll meant to sing a song loudly and heartily, so that all could hear.
Strolling while doing so was not necessarily required. This archaic meaning is probably the one Scottish musician Thomas Oliphant had in mind when he wrote the English lyrics to Deck the Hall in 1862.
You know, back in those wayment-stricken days five years before the leeftail velocipede craze, when cartomania had Civil War soldiers buying 2 1/2 by 4 inch portraits of themselves to leave behind with family and loved ones (or of their loved ones to carry with them into battle). During the Civil War, Americans bought these cheap paper photographs, known as cartes de visite, in such quantities that Oliver Wendell Holmes called them the “sentimental greenbacks of civilization.”
- As Old Town stable faces demolition, carriage owners see tenuous future (Chicago Tribune)
- The Worlds of Fred Rayworth (FredRayworth.com)
- Compendium of Lost Words (The Phrontistery)
- I spent 7 grueling hours waiting in line for an iPhone 7 (Tech Insider)
- The Cartes de Visite Craze (New York Times Opinionator)