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Tongues of angels

I wish I could speak in the ‘tongues of angels’, because then I would know how to pronounce that word that makes its appearance every Christmas: “Gloria in excelsis”. Is it pronounced ek/sell/sis or ek/shell/sis or ek/chell/sis or ek/shell/cease? O to have been a shepherd’s fly on the wall in Bethlehem.

Just what language did those herald angels choose in which to sing their anthem? Latin, the imperial language of the empire? Greek, the lingua franca of the day? Aramaic, the probable language of the Jewish shepherds? Whatever the case, the phrase in question is in Latin. The problem is that pronunciation changes through the years, not to mention when passed from one continent to another. The greater problem is that Christmas morning is approaching, and it’s always a pain when the congregation sings the phrase in all four variations and with some competition.

But then I remember my Grandfather, who was always known to us as ‘Fardy’, because my eldest brother could not pronounce the word grandfather. We used it. He wore it. We loved him. He knew it. And so the mispronunciation became a term of endearment.

Perhaps that’s the solution. And perhaps there’s some solace in that old hymn that concludes with the line: “The humbler creation though feeble their lays, with true adoration shall lisp to Thy praise”. (The lisping part, if applied too exactly, would certainly make an interesting pronunciation!) But the ‘true adoration’ part is what counts, for that’s surely the goal at Christmas.

DM 12th December 2019


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