‘Peal’ and ‘peel’

It’s nearly Christmas! To celebrate, I offer you some homophones that I have tenuously linked to the season: peal and peel.


  • a long loud echoing sound (such as that made by bells)
  • to sound with a peal or peals
  • a set of bells
  • a series of changes rung on bells


  • to remove the skin, rind or outer covering of
  • to come off in flakes
  • to lose parts of an outer layer or covering, usually in strips or small pieces
  • the skin or rind of a fruit (such as that found in mincemeat)

I don’t have a simple mnemonic for remembering this one; if you have any suggestions, please let me know below. I wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy new year!


  • Collins English Dictionary, 2009
  • Oxford Dictionaries Online
  • Pixabay (image)




https://pixabay.com/en/snowy-still-life-winter-christmas-1057327/If you sing or listen to carols, this word is probably very familiar. It is to me – some of my best childhood memories are of singing carols with a choir at Christmas.

Noel is often used as a refrain in carols and on Christmas cards. It means ‘Christmas’. A noel is a Christmas carol.

Its origin is early 19th century, from the French Noël. Noël is based on the Latin word natalis meaning ‘birthday’.

Joyeux Noel is sometimes used by English speakers to wish others a happy or merry Christmas. If you are writing to a French speaker, remember to use Noël.

You may have seen the spelling Nowell or Nowel. Nowell is the Middle English spelling of Noel. It’s now regarded as archaic and is rarely used. However, it is common for the carol ‘The First Nowell’ to be spelt using the original form (you can read more on why here).

If you use Spotify, here’s the carol with its famous refrain:

This is my last post for a week or so. I’ll still be contactable should you have any proofreading-related emergencies.

I wish you a very merry Christmas.

‘Slay’ and ‘sleigh’

SantaIt is getting closer to the time when Father Christmas delivers presents! As he dashes around the world every Christmas Eve, his method of transport is a sleigh.

Santa’s Slay is a film I don’t think I ever need to see.


  • to kill something in a violent way
  • to delight, impress or amuse someone very much
  • a tool used in weaving


  • a sledge drawn by animals, usually horses (or reindeer!)
  • (sleighing) ride on a sleigh

Here’s ‘Jingle Bells’, with the well-known sleigh-related lyrics:

Feeling Christmassy yet?



Xmas gets a bad rap. It is often seen as a symptom of the commercialisation of Christmas and is accused of ‘removing Christ from Christmas’.

Given the history of the word, that interpretation seems unfair. I don’t think it is as elegant as Christmas but it is an abbreviation that stays true to its meaning.Xmas

The use of Xmas is not a recent phenomenon. Fowler’s states it was first recorded in the 18th century; it appeared in a slightly different form even earlier.

The X represents the first letter (chi) of the Greek word for Christ – Χριστóς (Khristos, meaning ‘the anointed one’).

The use of X and XP to represent Christ has a long religious history. (You might recognise XP from the Chi-Rho monogram or symbol.) It’s worth reading about, particularly in regard to the influence of the Roman emperor Constantine I.

In spoken English, Xmas is usually (or should be) pronounced as ‘Christmas’ rather than as ‘ex-mass’.

‘Mincemeat’ or ‘minced meat’?

Mince piesWe are progressing rapidly through December, and that means it is now acceptable to eat lots of mince pies.

Mince pies contain mincemeat, and you probably wouldn’t want to put brandy cream on a pie containing minced meat.

Minced meat: Meat that has been cut up into very small pieces (usually by a machine).

Mincemeat: A mixture of dried fruit, sugar and spices. It may also contain alcohol (often brandy) and suet.

Mincemeat did once contain actual meat, and there is an interesting article on the history of the filling of mince pies here. Some dictionaries do give mincemeat as another word for minced meat, so be sure to check the context it is being used in.