Old Norse tidings, glad or otherwise

Words about words

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

tidings

Photo: Plum leaves / Flickr
The word “tidings” is most often used in a religious context these days, as in this Christmas illustration.

The word tidings, a plural noun sometimes used with a singular verb, describes the conveyance of news or information. It’s derived from the Old Norse tíðendi, a neuter plural noun meaning “events, occurrences, and the reports of them.” The first recorded mention of the word was in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles of 1069-1125, in which it was spelled tidunge. The more modern spelling first appeared in 1386 in “The Man of Law’s Tale,” one of The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400): “how that this blisful tidyng is befalle.” Today the word tidings is most used to describe happenings associated with joyful events, such as Christmas. Glad Christmas Tidings, the 2010 recording of the annual Mormon Tabernacle Choir concert, is a classic of that genre.

The Old Norse tíðendi also survived in Norwegian to become a designator for a newspaper, such as Nordisk Tidende, the Brooklyn-based Norwegian-language newspaper that became one of the predecessors of this newspaper, The Norwegian American. In 1991, Nordisk Tidende anglicized its name to Norway Times. The word “Times” then was well established as a name of a newspaper; The New York Times had been founded in 1851, following the naming of The Times, founded in London in 1788. That use of the plural of the noun “time” also is of Old Norse heritage. It’s derived from the Old Norse word tima, meaning an extent of time; hence the modern Norwegian word time, meaning “an hour.”

So though the words “tidings” and “times” might seem to be related, by an accident of etymological entanglement, they’re not.

M. Michael Brady was educated as a scientist and, with time, turned to writing and translating.

This article originally appeared in the December 28, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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