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This Holiday Season, Don't Be A Scrooge!

Many years ago, Charles Dickens sat in his office writing his classic story, "A Christmas Carol." Could he possibly have imagined that the name of his main character would become a common insult? (AP PHOTO)

Many years ago, Charles Dickens sat in his office writing his classic story, "A Christmas Carol." Could he possibly have imagined that the name of his main character would become a common insult? (AP PHOTO)

Hello! And welcome to the VOA Learning English program Words and Their Stories.

It is the holiday season in many parts of the world. Christmas is one of the most celebrated of those holidays. But even for those who do not celebrate Christmas, Christmas movies have become an American tradition.

Many fun expressions come from these movies. When Americans hear these expressions, they know exactly what they mean and the movies they come from.

On today’s show, we will explore two words that come from one of the most popular Christmas stories made into a movie: “A Christmas Carol.” Writer Charles Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol” in 1843. Ebenezer Scrooge is the main character of the story.

Scrooge is one of the most famous characters in English literature. And, the English language gained two words from “A Christmas Carol.”

The first is simply the character’s name: Scrooge. Ebenezer Scrooge is mean. He is unwilling to share his money and good fortune. He hates people. And he hates Christmas.

In the English language, a scrooge – with a lowercase “s” – is a person who is unwilling to give to others. Others words with the same meaning are miserly and stingy.

Scrooges are selfish, and not just at Christmas time or the holidays. Here is an example sentence:

“Her father is such a scrooge. He will not pay for her college tuition even though he has tons of money!”

That father is a first-rate scrooge!

Now back to “A Christmas Carol.” At the beginning of the story, Scrooge is a cold-hearted miser who hates Christmas.

Dickens describes Scrooge in this way:

"The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, made his eyes red, his thin lips blue, and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice ..."

How much does Scrooge hate Christmas? This passage from the book describes how much.

"If I could work my will," said Scrooge indignantly, "every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart."

This quote makes perfectly clear that Scrooge hates Christmas and all that it represents -- namely goodwill to fellow humans.

Scrooges’ catchphrase in the book and in the movies is “bah humbug!” As soon as you say “bah humbug” people know which story and which character you are talking about.

“Bah humbug” is usually used as a response to someone else’s Christmas cheer. For example, if someone asks you, “So, are you ready for Christmas?” and you say, “Christmas … bah humbug!” that means you are not in the Christmas spirit and are probably not going to celebrate.

Anyone who says “bah humbug” is rejecting or showing disgust for Christmas. Sometimes it is said in fun. Sometimes it is not.

The story of "A Christmas Carol" is one of personal change, of turning over a new leaf, to use an idiom.

As the story goes, the hateful Scrooge is visited one night by three Ghosts of Christmas: Ghost of Christmas Past, Ghost of Christmas Present and Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

The ghosts educate Scrooge and the last lesson is terrifying.

But it works. Scrooge greets the new morning as a generous, kind person.

However, word history does not remember him that way. His name will live on to mean the exact opposite.

That’s language. And that’s another Words and Their Stories.

I’m Anna Matteo.

Anna Matteo wrote this story for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

misery – n. extreme suffering or unhappiness : something that causes extreme suffering or unhappiness : A popular idiom using this word is “misery loves company.”

stingy – adj. not liking or wanting to give or spend money : not generous

shrewd – adj. having or showing an ability to understand things and to make good judgments : mentally sharp or clever

indignant – adj. feeling or showing anger because of something that is unfair or wrong : very angry

disgust – n. annoyance and anger that you feel toward something because it is not good, fair, appropriate, etc.

generous – adj. freely giving or sharing money and other valuable things : showing kindness and concern for others

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