Festive season truly the business, language researchers find

Traditional Christmas terminology being replaced by consumerist concerns, says CUP

People no longer talk the same way as they traditionally did about Christmas, language researchers for Cambridge University Press (CUP) have discovered.

Twenty years ago, people across the English-speaking world were far more likely to mention carols, pantomimes, pudding, stockings and crackers when they referred to Christmas.

Nowadays, hard-edged words to do with business have come to the fore. Words associated with consumerism, such as sales, spend, shopping and retailers are among the most commonly used in connection with Christmas.

The changes have been picked up in a major research project looking at the way the English language is used throughout the world.

The researchers reviewed more than two billion words in both spoken and written English and compared a list of the 50 most common words people use when talking about Christmas today against a list from the 1990s.

Among the words cropping up less often are wrapping, holly, wonderful, entertaining and games.

But words such as party, goodies, bash and frolics appear to be on the rise. But such excesses do not come cost-free. Since the 1990s, hangover has become one of the words commonly associated with Christmas.

Materialistic words

"With wall-to-wall advertising from retailers and increasing mentions in the media, we would expect to see a rise in the frequency of materialistic words in the recent data," said one of the CUP researchers, Laura Grimes.

“What is surprising is how prominent the influx of these words has been and how they now account for such a significant proportion of the words used in association with Christmas.

“If that appears a depressing finding, we can take heart from the fact that Father Christmas, tree, cards and decorations remain amongst the most common language associations with the holiday season.”

The research will continue during December with the aim of identifying the countries in which people get most - and least - excited about the festive season and how people’s moods change during the period.

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast