False friends: Jolly

Jolly non è la carta da gioco che è joker (vi ricordate Batman?) e nemmeno il tuttofare (che è jack of all trades), ma vuol dire allegro, felice, come la canzone “Holly Jolly Christmas” che invita ad avere un Natale allegro e gioioso. Esiste anche l’espressione “jolly good!” che vuol dire “molto bene, perfetto!”: è un’espressione molto britannica e abbastanza old-fashioned ma se la usate farete una bella figura! E poi, jolly è un eufemismo per “brillo”…

Mark Worden (Standard British accent)

As Christmas approaches, we would like to talk about a very special word and that is jolly because you probably know the song “A Holly Jolly Christmas.” However, we don’t tend to wish people a Jolly Christmas, we tend to wish them a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. It’s actually fairly rare (1) to say Happy Christmas: we prefer to say Merry Christmas; quite why, I don’t know. However, perhaps I should point out that in the United States people used to say Merry Christmas but in recent years they tend to say Happy Holidays. This is, I guess (2), for reasons of political correctness because not everybody whom you wish a Merry Christmas to  will in fact be celebrating Christmas: they might be celebrating under some other religion, or perhaps not even celebrating at all, so you simply wish a… you simply wish them Happy Holidays. Now, getting back to the word jolly,  there’s a problem here for Italians in English because in Italian you use the word jolly to refer to a particular card in the pack of playing cards (3), but in English that is in fact called The Joker, and this is perhaps evident from the… the Batman movies in which Jack Nicholson and later the poor… poor Heath Ledger played the part of The Joker. So that is The Joker. And we can just conclude with the words merry and jolly, which basically mean happy, and in English – although they’re becoming a little old-fashioned (4) now, they can also be a euphemism for being drunk (5). You can say, “He’s rather (6) merry” or “She’s rather jolly,” which means they’ve had too much to drink, but that is of course a risk that people run at Christmas, or indeed during the holidays. Anyway, Happy Holidays!


1    fairly rare: piuttosto raro
2    I guess: immagino, credo
3    playing cards: carte da gioco
4    old-fashioned: antiquato, fuori moda
5    drunk: ubriaco
6    rather: piuttosto

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