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Why Do Some People Say "Yuge" Instead of "Huge"?

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It might be the one thing Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have in common: they pronounce huge as "yuge."

It’s not so surprising that Sanders and Trump should share some dialect features in common. They were both born in New York in the 1940s. Indeed, this "yuge" for huge substitution has been a recognized feature of the New York City dialect for a long time, but it doesn’t only occur in New York. It’s found in Philadelphia and here and there around the U.S., as well as in the Irish cities of Cork and Dublin.

So do some people just randomly drop the "h" for no reason? Of course not. When people do it, they aren’t just randomly or lazily leaving off a sound. This "h"-dropping occurs in a specific environment—only in words that start with a "hyu." If they drop it in huge, they also drop it in humor, humid, humiliation, humongous, and Hugh.

Words that start with a consonant followed by "yu" have long been subject to the deletion of a sound. Think of the British pronunciations of tune, duty, suit, and news ("tyune," "dyuty," "syuit," "nyews"). That's the older pronunciation. In the U.S. as well as many other English speaking regions, the cluster of sounds before the u is reduced by eliminating the "y." Even so, that only happens if the first consonant is of the type produced by the contact of the tip of the tongue with the ridge behind the upper teeth ("t," "d," "s," "n," "l"). Other kinds of consonants let the "y" sound stick around (c[y]ure, p[y]unitive, b[y]eautiful, m[y]usic, f[y]ew…).

That "y" doesn’t stick around if you’re in East Anglia, where many towns have done away with the "y" clusters altogether by getting rid of "y" in all environments. There they say "bootiful" and "foo" for beautiful and few. Also, they say "hooge" for huge.

"Hooge" and "yuge" are two solutions to simplifying the "hyu" sound. In the East Anglia case the "y" gets dropped and in the New York case the "h" does. This wouldn’t be first example of a cluster getting reduced in two different ways. The word what has a similar story. Originally, it was like huge: it began with the cluster "hw" ("w" is, like "y," something called a “glide” sound, falling between a consonant and a vowel). What was "hwat." There was also "hwen," "hwistle," "hwale"—pretty much any word spelled with "wh" today once had a pronunciation of "hw." In some places, particularly the American South, Scotland, and Ireland, it still does. But mostly, the "h" was dropped and people say what and whale without it. However, in some words, like who and whole, the "w" was dropped instead.

So, yeah, it’s complicated. The point is, there’s an instability to these consonant + glide clusters that makes them prone to simplify, and that can play out in various ways. As for why it results in "yuge" for New Yorkers in particular, we don’t know exactly, except to say that the story of yuge, like that of all New York dialect features, will have something to do with generation, class, status, and the hustling, bustling mix of people from all over who both adapted and contributed as they tried to talk to each other. That’s the messy way language changes over time. It happens because we're yuman.

Big Questions
Why Is Holly a Symbol of Christmas?

Santa Claus. A big ol’ red-and-white stocking hung by the fire. Nativity scenes. Most classic Christmas imagery is pretty self-explanatory. Then there’s the holly, genus Ilex, which found its way onto holiday cards through a more circuitous route. 

Christmas is kind of the new kid on the block as far as holly symbolism is concerned. The hardy plant’s ability to stay vibrant through the winter made it a natural choice for pre-Christian winter festivals. The Roman feast of Saturnalia, celebrated at the darkest time of the year, celebrated the god of agriculture, creation, and time, and the transition into sunshine and spring. Roman citizens festooned their houses with garlands of evergreens and tied cheery holly clippings to the gifts they exchanged.

The Celtic peoples of ancient Gaul saw great magic in the holly’s bright "berries" (technically drupes) and shiny leaves. They wore holly wreaths and sprigs to many sacred rites and festivals and viewed it as a form of protection from evil spirits. 

Christianity’s spread through what is now Europe was slow and complicated. It was hardly a one-shot, all-or-nothing takeover; few people are eager to give up their way of life. Instead, missionaries in many areas had more luck blending their messages with existing local traditions and beliefs. Holly and decorated trees were used symbolically by new Christians, just as they’d been used in their pagan days.

Today, some people associate the holly bush not with the story of Jesus’s birth but with his death, comparing the plant’s prickly leaves to a crown of thorns and the berries to drops of blood. 

But most people just enjoy it because it’s cheerful, picturesque, and riotously alive at a time when the rest of the world seems to be still and asleep.

NOTE: Holly is as poisonous as it is pretty. Please keep it away from your kids and pets.

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What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?

Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.


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