Collins Language

Blogs from the Collins Language team in Glasgow, UK.

Monday, 29 March 2010

April 2010

Easter Egg-stravaganza

Easter is a festival of great significance for Christians, commemorating as it does the resurrection of Jesus Christ after the crucifixion. There are a host of Easter customs, traditions, and expressions with interesting origins. Shrove Tuesday (also known as 'Pancake Day') is so named because it was the last day of Shrovetide – the days on which confessions were made. Shrove is from the English verb shrive 'to confess and atone for one's sins'. The consumption of pancakes on this day is due to their luxury ingredients sugar, eggs, and milk – a final feast before such treats are given up for Lent. In many languages, this day is known as 'Fat Tuesday', e.g. French Mardi Gras, as it is the last day of feasting before the fast. The following day 'Ash Wednesday' is named after the ashes which some Christian denominations apply to their foreheads in the sign of the cross to signify repentance at the start of the fast. Lent is a 40-day period of fasting from Ash Wednesday until Easter Saturday, observed by Christians in honour of the time Jesus spent renouncing the devil in the wilderness. Its name is derived from Old English lencten 'spring', literally the lengthening of hours of daylight.

This is the time of year when the clocks go forward in most of the northern hemisphere, stemming from an odd collective desire to manipulate time and give workers a longer evening. Daylight Saving Time (in Britain 'British Summer Time') is thought to reduce the number of road accidents in the evening. It can disadvantage farmers, however, whose work depends on early morning daylight. DST always results in much confusion and head-scratching over whether we gain or lose an hour, and whether this means there will be more or less light at the beginning or end of the day. There is much comic potential in getting it the wrong way round, and a ready-made excuse if you happen to oversleep that day. The American English mnemonic 'Spring forward, fall back' helps us remember which way to reset the umpteen clocks in our houses, and fortunately our clever computer clocks keep us right anyway.

Easter can be described as a 'moveable feast' as its date is not fixed to the calendar, but to a complicated calculation going back to the middle ages: Easter day is always the first Sunday after the fourteenth day of the lunar month that falls on or after the day of the vernal equinox. The expression 'moveable feast' was the title of Ernest Hemingway's memoir of his bohemian days in Paris in the 1920s, and can now be applied to any enjoyable time, particularly one which is unfixed in duration or date. It has a very broad remit, almost applying to anything flexible and beneficial, as these corpus lines show:

Gold is a moveable feast. You can sell it for a price – set twice a day – anywhere in the world.

The nature of family has been something of a moveable feast throughout history: it has always been impressively flexible.

Don't keep to set times – your baby may be tired in the evening. Make bathtime a moveable feast.

'Moveable feast' seems a literally apt expression to describe Easter in modern times: workers making the Great Easter Getaway to join loved ones and eat Easter eggs together. Happy Easter from Collins!

Anne Robertson - Editor


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