4-minute read

What is Twixmas?

In response to the routine question ‘What are you doing for Christmas?’, I’ve been telling people we’re at home but then going away between Christmas and Hogmanay. To some, I’ve said we’re going away for Twixmas, and they have mostly understood straightaway that I meant the period from the twenty-seventh onwards (because Boxing Day presumably still comes under the heading of ‘Christmas’ in commercial terms).

I hadn’t come across Twixmas until, I think, the year before last (2016). The delightful hotel where we used to hole up for three or four days over Christmas later stopped doing Christmas packages due to lack of demand. (We had been the youngest couple there, which was gratifying from a narcissistic point of view; sadly, we think some of the auld yins might have moved on to a better place, hence the lack of demand.)

Anyway, the last time we were there enjoying our Christmas ‘tucker’, the hotel also offered a ‘Twixmas’ break.

Now, in context, sandwiched as it was between Xmas and New Year packages, it was blindingly obvious that Twixmas referred to the period between Crimbles and New Year.

But with less context is it so clear?

This Beeb vid from last year suggests possibly not.

(Context is all. It is clear from what the presenter says at the beginning and people’s responses that they were asked ‘Have you heard of Twixmas?’ In other words, there was no genuine linguistic context.)

It is not yet defined in any of the major dictionaries, as far as I can see.

English has a rather restricted repertoire of ways to make new words. One often-used way is to splice existing words together in the way an unscrupulous car dealer might weld two cars together in a ‘cut and shut’. Such combinations of two (or more) words are extremely common.

With cars, the join is intended to be invisible. With words, however, speakers need to sense where that join lies so they can deduce the meaning. Let’s take Brexit (sorry to mention it, you must be as sick to death of hearing about it as everyone else), which is a combination of British/Britain and Exit. The name for such hybrids is ‘portmanteau’1 or ‘blend’.

Alice and portmanteaus

The portmanteau we’re talking about now is Twixmas. It is presumably a blend of betwixt with Christmas (whereas it could, say, have been Tweenmas, from between, but then it wouldn’t rhyme, and would be even more opaque.)

It has its pros and cons.

On the con side:

  • Twix is a kind of sweet widely known in Britain. As the video (December 2017) shows, some people thought Twixmas might be a confection (figuratively, and almost literally).
  • Only one person in that video knew what it meant.
  • The suffix –mas is not widely known or highly productive these (post-Christian) days.

(While historically it appears in a handful of religious feast days, as the OED shows [e.g. Candlemas, Lammas, Martinmas], the one that more people might have heard of is Michaelmas, as it is used to refer to the autumn term at some schools and universities. Not to mention Michaelmas daisies.)

  • It is a made-up word, invented by the advertising and marketing industry to make us part with our money. (Or, as the top definition in Urban Dictionary rather bitterly puts it, ‘capitalist pigs [sic] idea to squeeze more profit from christianity [sic] and abusing the poor minimum wagers to slave away there [sic] holiday season.’)

On the plus side:

    • It expresses in one word what otherwise would take at least seven, thereby embodying the principle of economy, which is often a driver of language change.
    • It rhymes with Christmas, which makes it – or should make it – easy to remember.
    • Other ‘invented’ words have stood the test of time, such as blurb.
    • It is arguably ingenious, taking the twix– element from betwixt, a word which possibly conjures up the set phrase betwixt and between. (Note in the video how the two older ladies get this immediately.)

Will it last?

Only time will tell.

But whatever you are doing for Twixmas, I hope you have fun.

And here’s wishing you a successful and prosperous 2019!

NB: According to the video, it’s only 27-29 December. I suppose 30 December is subsumed under New Year celebrations.

I don’t know about you, but the final ‘Merry Twixmas’ really doesn’t work.


1Portmanteau is not an ‘invented’ word itself, but its linguistic meaning was ‘invented’ by Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking Glass.

To understand the appropriateness of the word, it is necessary to realise the kind of luggage it denotes in its literal meaning. As the OED defines it (emboldening mine): A case or bag for carrying clothing and other belongings when travelling; (originally) one of a form suitable for carrying on horseback; (now esp.) one in the form of a stiff leather case hinged at the back to open into two equal parts.

Not just any old portmanteau, but a Luis Vuitton one.

Humpty Dumpty is explaining the meaning of some of the words in the ‘Jabberwocky’ poem, the first couplet of which runs ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves | did gyre and gimble in the wabe’.

‘That’s enough to begin with,’ Humpty Dumpty interrupted : ‘there are plenty of hard words there. “Brillig” means four o’clock in the afternoon—the time when you begin broiling things for dinner.’

‘That’ll do very well,’ said Alice : ‘and “slithy”?’

‘Well, “slithy” means “lithe and slimy”. “Lithe” is the same as “active”. You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word.’

‘I see it now,’ Alice remarked thoughtfully : ‘and what are “toves”?’

‘Well, “toves” are something like badgers—they’re something like lizards—and they’re something like corkscrews.’

‘They must be very curious creatures.’

‘They are that,’ said Humpty Dumpty : ‘also they make their nests under sun-dials—also they live on cheese.’

(The space before the colons above is deliberate, echoing the original printing convention, which is still followed in French.)

3 Comments

  1. “Alice and portmanteaus”…. am I the only one left who uses portmanteaux as the plural? Similarly beaux as the plural of beau? Bureaux and bureau…. Do you have any usage data, Jeremy? Am I past my sell-by date?

    And the new word I learned today was Twixmas.

    Like

    1. Hi, Margaret.

      Very early best wishes for New Year! A quick scan of general and academic corpora suggests usage almost exactly 50:50. Online Oxford gives -s first and -x second, as does M-W online. I chose -s on the grounds that the word is now fully anglicized, but chacun(e) à son etc. I will need to add a note to any revision of Fowler.

      Like

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