This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Friday, 28 December 2018

Word To Use Today: mistletoe.

Well, we all know what a toe is: but what's a mistle?

Well, the other mistle- thing is the mistle thrush, the largest of our British thrushes. It's also called a storm cock because of its wonderful habit of sitting in the top of trees and singing its heart out as a storm approaches. 

File:Fledgling mistle thrush.jpg
photo of a young mistle thrush by Jim Champion

But the thrush turns out to be called after the plant, so this doesn't help us. 

File:Mistletoe Berries Uk.jpg
photo by Alexbrn

(I'd better say here that though thrushes enjoy mistletoe berries, they are poisonous to humans.)

There are hundreds of species of mistletoe, and they  can be found all over the world. Its distinctive, semi-parasitic way of growing on trees has attracted lots of folklore, often connected with fertility. The Celtic Druids believed the berries could cure illnesses, protect against nightmares, and even foretell the future; but it was the Ancient Greeks who first began kissing under the mistletoe (I don't want to spoil anyone's fun, but if you want to do the kissing thing properly then you have to pick one berry before each kiss), and later the Romans would settle their differences under it (a particularly useful function at this time of year).

In York Minster in mediaeval times there was a special winter mistletoe service where wrongdoers could be pardoned. Mistletoe was used to ward off evil, too.

So there are lots of customs to choose from, unless you want to do what people have been doing for thousands of years and start your own personal mistletoe tradition.

Whatever you do, have fun!

Word To Use Today: mistletoe. The toe bit comes from the Old English tan, meaning twig, which was added to the word for the plant, mistle. Where the word mistle came from is a bit of a mystery, but perhaps it's something to do with the Germanic word mash, meaning sticky (the berries are sticky), or the other Germanic word mist, meaning poo (the seeds are spread in bird poo).

So there we are. Mistletoe is poo on a stick.

What a lovely thing to put up in your living room!

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