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In the United States this weekend is one for celebrating.
On the 4th of July there will be fireworks, there will be parties, people will be swilling drinks and laughing.
Historically though, to celebrate was to solemnly honor something very important.
The Latin meaning of celebratus was “to honor in a large group” so that when celebrate arrived in English just before 1500 with the enlightenment, it was associated with rigid rites performed in public as might be done in a church.
It was the large crowd at such celebrations that originally gave the Roman events the term from celeber meaning “populous”.
The modern meaning of celebrate only seems to have arisen in the last 100 years and contrasts somewhat with what The Oxford English Dictionary says about the word.
This highlights the ponderous task it is to keep a huge dictionary like the OED up to date.
Merriam Webster is no lightweight but it has a pretty modern definition alongside the traditional ones; “to engage in hilarious festivities usually including drinking.”
In contrast, the OED with its enormous ballast of having to include multiple dated first citations of every definition, has not yet gotten around to any hilarious drinking festivities in its definitions.
But you can be certain that eventually it will, and when it does I’ll raise a glass to celebrate.
Five days a week Charles Hodgson produces Podictionary – the podcast for word lovers, Thursday episodes here at OUPblog. He’s also the author of several books including his latest History of Wine Words – An Intoxicating Dictionary of Etymology from the Vineyard, Glass, and Bottle.