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  #1  
Old 12-19-2009, 12:04 PM
Elendil's Heir Elendil's Heir is online now
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Meaning of "was to certain poor shepherds"

From the traditional Christmas carol "The First Noel":

The first Noel, the angels did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay....


Is "certain" here a verb (to make them sure of God's grace), or an adjective (referring to particular shepherds)?
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  #2  
Old 12-19-2009, 12:08 PM
amarinth amarinth is online now
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adjective
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Old 12-19-2009, 12:12 PM
Colibri Colibri is offline
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I'm pretty sure it's the adjectival sense. Merriam-Webster does not even list "certain" as having a verbal sense. Since "certain" as an adjective dates to the 13th century, while the carol evidently dates to the 18th, I doubt that it is an archaic usage.

From Merriam-Webster, the particular sense would be:

Quote:
2 : of a specific but unspecified character, quantity, or degree

Last edited by Colibri; 12-19-2009 at 12:12 PM..
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Old 12-19-2009, 12:19 PM
Thudlow Boink Thudlow Boink is offline
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Yeah, I agree. But those Christmas carols can be confusing, syntactically and otherwise.

When I was a kid, I used to wonder what "Orient Are" was.

And why the beggar didn't just help himself to all the food at the feast that "Good King Wenceslaus" was looking at.
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Old 12-19-2009, 12:40 PM
handsomeharry handsomeharry is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Thudlow Boink View Post
Yeah, I agree. But those Christmas carols can be confusing, syntactically and otherwise.

When I was a kid, I used to wonder what "Orient Are" was.
That's because there is no such thing as "Orient Are."

The correct phrase was "Orien Tar." I had that figured out by 1st grade.
Do I have to do all of the thinking around here????

hh
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Old 12-19-2009, 01:10 PM
brujaja brujaja is offline
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"Noel," in this particular song, refers to Christmas caroling or greetings, rather than the season itself. So it's saying, the first song that the angels sang rejoicing at the birth of Jesus was sung to certain particular shepherds.

The comma really should be after "say;" with the comma after "noel," it makes it sound like, "the angels said that the first noel was to certain poor shepherds." That may be why it's confusing.
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Old 12-19-2009, 01:21 PM
Wendell Wagner Wendell Wagner is offline
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The First Noel is perhaps three hundred years old:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_First_Nowell

Some of the phrasing is hard to understand because it uses older grammar that is now no longer used. Indeed, I suspect that some of the grammar was old-fashioned even when it was written. Some of it sounds like someone in 1800 trying to write like a person from 1650. Some of the phrasing is contorted just because it's an attempt to fit words into a pre-existing melody. Let's go through some of the song:

The first Noel the angels did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
In fields where they lay, keeping their sheep,
On a cold winter's night that was so deep.

What this means is this:

The first Christmas carol is the one that angels sang to some poor shepherds in the fields where they slept, taking care of their sheep, on a winter's night that was deep.

What I'm not sure of is what the phrase "night that was so deep" means. I think that I had the idea when I heard the song as a child was that it meant that the snow was deep that night. I don't think it makes much sense for there to be deep snow in Israel. However, the songwriters might not have known this. The phrase may simply mean that it was in the middle of the night.
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Old 12-19-2009, 01:53 PM
Colibri Colibri is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wendell Wagner View Post
What I'm not sure of is what the phrase "night that was so deep" means. I think that I had the idea when I heard the song as a child was that it meant that the snow was deep that night. I don't think it makes much sense for there to be deep snow in Israel. However, the songwriters might not have known this. The phrase may simply mean that it was in the middle of the night.
I've always taken that to mean that it was deep night, either deep in the night (middle of the night) or very dark.
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Old 12-19-2009, 02:32 PM
Sunspace Sunspace is online now
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I always thought it was deep cold. Does or did it get cold n Israel?
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Old 12-19-2009, 02:42 PM
Wendell Wagner Wendell Wagner is offline
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Next verse:

They looked up and saw a star,
Shining in the east, beyond them far.
And to the earth it gave great light,
And so it continued both day and night.

I presume that, this song never having been in copyright, it's O.K. to print the whole song. This verse means:

They looked up and saw a star that shone in the east, far away from them. This star lit up the landscape, and it continued to do so for many days and nights.
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  #11  
Old 12-19-2009, 03:39 PM
Fear Itself Fear Itself is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sunspace View Post
I always thought it was deep cold. Does or did it get cold n Israel?
Apparently not at Christmas time.
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  #12  
Old 12-19-2009, 03:47 PM
Chessic Sense Chessic Sense is offline
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I'm going to disagree. I think it's a verb. Luke 2 gives us:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Luke 2:9-14
9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ[a] the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
This is the "first noel" that is referenced in the song. The first thing the angel says is "Do not be afraid." They're terrified. They're uncertain. So the angel says something to certain them. Now I realize that's not in the dictionary, but "...was to reassure scared, pitiful shepherds" makes more sense than saying "was to specific, impoverished shepherds".


ETA: I think "deep night" means a dark night, to contrast with the star that comes in the next verse.

Last edited by Chessic Sense; 12-19-2009 at 03:51 PM..
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  #13  
Old 12-19-2009, 05:46 PM
Polycarp Polycarp is offline
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A 'Noel' ('Nowell' in some older versions) in this case is a sung announcement of Jesus's birth. The first one of these was to one particular group of poor shepherds lying in fields outside Bethlehem. (Compare lawyerese: "Certain persons are excluded from this offer, including employees and officers of manufacturer, employees of the advertising agent and their immediate families, and those living outside the 48 contiguous states...."

The news didn't go to shepherds generally, but to one particular group of them, those tending their flocks outside Bethlehem on the night of Jesus's birth -- certain shepherds, not all of them.
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  #14  
Old 12-19-2009, 05:56 PM
Colibri Colibri is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chessic Sense View Post
They're uncertain. So the angel says something to certain them. Now I realize that's not in the dictionary, but "...was to reassure scared, pitiful shepherds" makes more sense than saying "was to specific, impoverished shepherds".
Can you find even one other example of the word being used in this way?

IMO, the fact that "certain" is an adjective, with a completely appropriate meaning for the way it is used in the song, pretty much indicates that reading is the correct one.
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  #15  
Old 12-19-2009, 07:20 PM
Wendell Wagner Wendell Wagner is offline
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Next verse:

And by the light of that same star,
Three Wise Men came from country far.
To seek for a King was their intent,
And to follow the star whersoever it went.

This means:

Following the light of this star, the Three Wise Men came from a faraway country. They wanted to look for a king and to follow the star wherever it went.
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  #16  
Old 12-19-2009, 09:21 PM
rowrrbazzle rowrrbazzle is offline
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The OED has an entry for "certain" used as a verb, but it doesn't really mean "reassure". Here's the whole entry.
Quote:
Obs. rare.

[f. prec.: cf. OF. certainer, and ASCERTAIN.]

trans. To make certain; to certify. Hence certaining vbl. n.

a1300 Cursor M. 26973 Bot if žat it be suilk a thing žat žou wat of na certanyng. 1523 LD. BERNERS Froiss. I. cclxx. 401 He certeyned them how he wolde ryde forthe.
"Certain" is definitely an adjective in the carol.

Last edited by rowrrbazzle; 12-19-2009 at 09:22 PM..
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  #17  
Old 12-20-2009, 02:11 AM
Wendell Wagner Wendell Wagner is offline
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Next verse:

This star drew nigh to the north-west;
O'er Bethlehem it took its rest.
And there it did both stop and stay
Right over the place where Jesus lay.

This star moved towards the northwest and stopped at Bethlehem. It stayed right over where Jesus lay.
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  #18  
Old 12-20-2009, 03:22 AM
Mosier Mosier is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fear Itself View Post
Does anything in the story of Jesus' birth indicate he was even born during the winter?
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  #19  
Old 12-20-2009, 06:10 AM
Mk VII Mk VII is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by handsomeharry View Post
That's because there is no such thing as "Orient Are."

The correct phrase was "Orien Tar." I had that figured out by 1st grade.
Do I have to do all of the thinking around here????

hh
We Three Kings of Orien Tar
One in a taxi, one in a car
One on a scooter, beeping his hooter
Following Ringo Starr
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  #20  
Old 12-20-2009, 06:32 AM
jjimm jjimm is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mk VII View Post
We Three Kings of Orien Tar
One in a taxi, one in a car
One on a scooter, beeping his hooter
Following Ringo Starr
Ohhhhh ohhhh
Star of wonder
Star of light
Charlie set his pants alight
Still proceeding
Through the ceiling
Guide us to that perfect light.
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  #21  
Old 12-20-2009, 06:59 AM
Arkcon Arkcon is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mosier View Post
Does anything in the story of Jesus' birth indicate he was even born during the winter?
No. Most of the evidence in the story, for example, shepherds out in the fields with their flock, instead of indoors, points to late summer. There was a definite decision in the early church to move the celebration of Christ's birth to the Winter solstice, it's just a better time -- everyone was ready to party, and not work, because of day length and it allows pagans to transfer their traditions and rituals from their faith to the new one. It's not something early Christian leaders were embarrassed or ashamed about, just a good idea at the time.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas#History

Oops, looks like wikipedia doesn't confirm what I said, and points to the info coming out of the 18th century research. Hmmm. Sorry I don't have a specific citation. But still: Jesus, born in Winter, no.
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  #22  
Old 12-20-2009, 08:00 AM
RachelChristine RachelChristine is offline
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2nd verse of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen:

From God our Heavenly Father a blessed Angel came,
And unto certain shepherds brought tidings of the same.

There are the certain shepherds again!
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  #23  
Old 12-20-2009, 08:29 AM
Polycarp Polycarp is offline
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Well, the Shepherds played the Scriptural role of the first witnesses to Jesus --

"A whole chorus of angels? Announcing the Messiah? And a star moving around like Tinkerbell? Are you shepherds sure you didn't get drunk and make this stuff up?"

"Oh, no, sir, we're certain!!"
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  #24  
Old 12-20-2009, 09:05 AM
Fear Itself Fear Itself is offline
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"Certain shepards" doesn't appear in the gospels, but 'certain' is used exclusively as an adjective.
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  #25  
Old 12-20-2009, 10:19 AM
Canadjun Canadjun is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Arkcon View Post
No. Most of the evidence in the story, for example, shepherds out in the fields with their flock, instead of indoors, points to late summer.
I'm probably dead wrong, but I thought that business of shepherds watching their flocks by night implied springtime, when lambs were being born and the flocks needed to be kept an eye on more.
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  #26  
Old 12-20-2009, 11:48 AM
Elendil's Heir Elendil's Heir is online now
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Southern joke:

Q: How do we know the Three Wise Men were volunteer firefighters?
A: 'Cause the Good Book says "they came from afar"!
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  #27  
Old 12-20-2009, 12:09 PM
Xotan Xotan is offline
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'Certain' is used adjectivally. It's use, although it may initially look archaic, is pretty much the same as in the modern phrase 'a certain person said to me'. In other words, its intention is to definine a group (of shepherds), but in a very imprecise way.

It has nothing whatsoever about the shepherds being sure or unsure.
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  #28  
Old 12-20-2009, 01:05 PM
Wendell Wagner Wendell Wagner is offline
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Next verse:

Then entered in those Wise Men three,
Fell reverently upon their knee,
And offered there in his presence,
Their gold and myrrh and frankincense.

This means:

The Wise Men went to where Jesus was, got down on their knees, and gave him gold and incense.
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  #29  
Old 12-20-2009, 01:17 PM
Polycarp Polycarp is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Xotan View Post
'Certain' is used adjectivally. It's use, although it may initially look archaic, is pretty much the same as in the modern phrase 'a certain person said to me'. In other words, its intention is to definine a group (of shepherds), but in a very imprecise way.

It has nothing whatsoever about the shepherds being sure or unsure.
My first post in the thread agreed with this; the one with the apocryphal quotes was an attempt at a joke.
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  #30  
Old 12-20-2009, 01:24 PM
picunurse picunurse is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Thudlow Boink View Post
Yeah, I agree. But those Christmas carols can be confusing, syntactically and otherwise.

When I was a kid, I used to wonder what "Orient Are" was.

And why the beggar didn't just help himself to all the food at the feast that "Good King Wenceslaus" was looking at.
We three kings of orient are... bearing gifts.
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  #31  
Old 12-20-2009, 01:29 PM
Polycarp Polycarp is offline
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BTW, a quasi-factual post relative to the Nativity Story -- the traditional image of shepherds, wise men, ox, ass, angels, Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all gathered around the manger is likely totally invalid. Luke, after relating Mary's story, tells the traditional birth-in-the-stable story, as far as the shepherds hearing the first Noel, going and worshipping the baby; Matthew focuses on Joseph's motivations, and is the one with the Wise Men, who went to the house where they were staying -- followed by the Flight into Egypt and Herod's Massacre of the Innocents. Presumably the Wise Men came later, after Joseph found lodging besides the stable -- which is the reason for the 12 Days of Christmas, 12th Night being the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany, when Jesus is shown to the Wise Men bearing their gifts, they being Gentiles unlike the Shepherds. (The Jew/Gentile issue underlies the New Testament narrative and letters to a lot greater extent than we tend to notice at first glance.)
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  #32  
Old 12-20-2009, 01:32 PM
Polycarp Polycarp is offline
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Actually, if rendered into non-inverted English, it would be:

We three kings are of (from) the Orient.
We travel afar bearing gifts -- [passing by) field and fountain, moor (not Moor which would be anachronistic) and mountain, following that there star.
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  #33  
Old 12-20-2009, 02:38 PM
Wendell Wagner Wendell Wagner is offline
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Last verse:

Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord
That hath made heaven and earth of nought,
And with his blood mankind hath bought.

This means:

Let's all sing praises together to God who made the whole universe out of nothing and has saved mankind by the sacrifice of Jesus.
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  #34  
Old 12-20-2009, 03:16 PM
Chez Guevara Chez Guevara is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mk VII View Post
We Three Kings of Orien Tar
One in a taxi, one in a car
One on a scooter, beeping his hooter
Following Ringo Starr
Before the Beatles took the popular music scene by storm, this version of the carol used to end with 'Smoking a big cigar' rather than 'Following Ringo Starr'.

We must be glad that Ringo came along because 'Smoking a big cigar' really takes liberties with history, there being no evidence whatsoever that any of the Three Kings ever smoked a cigar in their lives.
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  #35  
Old 12-20-2009, 03:45 PM
Colibri Colibri is offline
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Since this has become mainly about the song rather than a question of grammar, perhaps it's time to move this to CS.

Colibri
General Questions Moderator
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  #36  
Old 12-20-2009, 03:49 PM
Colibri Colibri is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chez Guevara View Post
Before the Beatles took the popular music scene by storm, this version of the carol used to end with 'Smoking a big cigar' rather than 'Following Ringo Starr'.

We must be glad that Ringo came along because 'Smoking a big cigar' really takes liberties with history, there being no evidence whatsoever that any of the Three Kings ever smoked a cigar in their lives.
In grade school (long before there was a Ringo Starr), we sang:

We three kings of Orient are,
Trying to smoke a Raleigh cigar,
It was loaded,
It exploded,
BOOM!

Last edited by Colibri; 12-20-2009 at 03:50 PM..
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  #37  
Old 12-20-2009, 04:05 PM
Elendil's Heir Elendil's Heir is online now
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We would sing,

...It was loaded,
It exploded,
BOOM!


Then, after a brief pause, resume:

We two kings of Orient are....
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  #38  
Old 12-20-2009, 04:20 PM
Walloon Walloon is offline
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Is there any month of the year when Israeli shepherds would not be in the fields with their sheep? Pretty much a year-round activity in the moderate climates.
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  #39  
Old 12-21-2009, 12:24 PM
Mk VII Mk VII is offline
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Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the Feast of Stephen
Snowballs hit him on the snout
Made it all uneven
Brightly shone his nose that night
Though the pain was cruel
When a doctor came in sight
Riding on a mu-u-el
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  #40  
Old 12-21-2009, 12:43 PM
Skammer Skammer is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wendell Wagner View Post
The Wise Men went to where Jesus was, got down on their knees, and gave him gold and incense.
"Thanks for the gold and incense! Uh, don't worry so much about the myrrh next time."
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  #41  
Old 12-21-2009, 12:47 PM
Intergalactic Gladiator Intergalactic Gladiator is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by handsomeharry View Post
That's because there is no such thing as "Orient Are."

The correct phrase was "Orien Tar." I had that figured out by 1st grade.
Do I have to do all of the thinking around here????

hh
And in Silent Night, I keep thinking that Jesus is a holy imbecile, tender and mild.

I know that's not right, but every year....
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  #42  
Old 12-21-2009, 01:17 PM
Emily Litella Emily Litella is offline
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Tender and mild - it's the marinade.
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  #43  
Old 12-21-2009, 02:40 PM
Olentzero Olentzero is offline
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Emily Litella wins the thread.
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  #44  
Old 12-21-2009, 02:48 PM
Biffy the Elephant Shrew Biffy the Elephant Shrew is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by brujaja View Post
So it's saying, the first song that the angels sang rejoicing at the birth of Jesus was sung to certain particular shepherds.
I'm not certain that people who raise sheep for a living can afford to be too particular.
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  #45  
Old 12-21-2009, 07:27 PM
Wendell Wagner Wendell Wagner is offline
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Skammer, I summarized it as just "gold and incense" because myrrh and frankincense are both just varieties of incense.
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  #46  
Old 12-21-2009, 07:42 PM
dropzone dropzone is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wendell Wagner View Post
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay,
"Was?" Not "t'was?" Learn something new each day.
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  #47  
Old 12-21-2009, 08:01 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Colibri View Post
In grade school (long before there was a Ringo Starr), we sang:

We three kings of Orient are,
Trying to smoke a Raleigh cigar,
It was loaded,
It exploded,
BOOM!
We sang the same in about 1956 "rubber cigar." Hell, it didn't make sense then. Maybe it shudda been "Raleigh."
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  #48  
Old 12-22-2009, 10:22 PM
Mona Lisa Simpson Mona Lisa Simpson is offline
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Originally Posted by samclem View Post
We sang the same in about 1956 "rubber cigar." Hell, it didn't make sense then. Maybe it shudda been "Raleigh."
In Canada, in the 1970s it was "Cuban Cigar".
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