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Two observations:

In the New Testament, the word εὐφραίνω (euphrainō) has been translated as celebrate, rejoice, glad. But only in one location, it is translated as merry, which is the famous "eat, drink and be merry" (Luke 12:19).

And He told them a parable, saying, "The land of a rich man was very productive. "And he began reasoning to himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?' "Then he said, 'This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 'And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry."' "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?' (Luk 12:16-20)

Another thing to note is the Queen appears to intentionally avoid saying "Merry Christmas" in her Christmas address. Even though many Brits have been accustomed to that phrase, the Queen still insisted every year saying "wish you a very happy Christmas".

So, is merry in fact a bad word?

  • My understanding is that it's not that they avoid "merry" in "Merry Christmas" (in Britain) so much as they just like saying "Happy Christmas"... But I'm not British, so I don't know. – Catija Jul 29 '16 at 18:07
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    That biblical passage implies nothing special about the meaning of "merry", any more than it does about "eat". – Hot Licks Jul 29 '16 at 19:21
  • With regard to Christmas, note that "merry" and "happy" have two different meanings, and I think most people would prefer a happy Christmas to a merry one, if it could only be one or the other. – Hot Licks Jul 29 '16 at 20:27
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    'Merry' does have the pejorative sense 'slightly drunk', which doubtless promotes the connotation with other usages. But in the Bible passage, it's not the resting, eating, drinking or having fun that is deemed wrong, but the self-centredness. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 29 '16 at 22:36
  • No, 'merry' is not a bad word, but to wish someone 'a merry Christmas' suggests that they will be having a lively celebration, so it might not be the best greeting to use to a person who is in poor health or lives alone. – Kate Bunting Dec 7 '16 at 18:00
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Looking at the etymology of the term it appears that "marry" original meaning and main usages are related to "positive" connotations. A few "less positive" or "satirical" connotations developed mainly in the 18th century such as marry-begot or merry-bout. Overall the term is a "positive" one:

Merry (adj.):

  • Old English myrge "pleasing, agreeable, pleasant, sweet; pleasantly, melodiously,"* from Proto-Germanic *murgijaz, which probably originally meant "short-lasting," (compare Old High German murg "short," Gothic gamaurgjan "to shorten"), from PIE *mreghu- "short" (see brief (adj.)). The only exact cognate for meaning outside English was Middle Dutch mergelijc "joyful."

  • Connection to "pleasure" is likely via notion of "making time fly, that which makes the time seem to pass quickly" (compare German Kurzweil "pastime," literally "a short time;" Old Norse skemta "to amuse, entertain, amuse oneself," from skamt, neuter of skammr "short"). There also was a verbal form in Old English, myrgan "be merry, rejoice." For vowel evolution, see bury (v.).

    • Bot vchon enle we wolde were fyf, þe mo þe myryer. [c. 1300]
  • The word had much wider senses in Middle English, such as "pleasant-sounding" (of animal voices), "fine" (of weather), "handsome" (of dress), "pleasant-tasting" (of herbs).

  • Merry-bout "an incident of sexual intercourse" was low slang from 1780. Merry-begot "illegitimate" (adj.), "bastard" (n.) is from 1785. Merrie England (now frequently satirical or ironic) is 14c. meri ingland, originally in a broader sense of "bountiful, prosperous." Merry Monday was a 16c. term for "the Monday before Shrove Tuesday" (Mardi Gras).

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    You've used marry twice; if it were once I'd presume a typo. Has lightning struck twice? – BladorthinTheGrey Jan 5 '17 at 22:15

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