Advertise on ChoralNet 
ChoralNet logo
The mission of the ACDA is to inspire excellence in choral music through education, performance, composition, and advocacy.

Help with some words in "Sir Christmas"

I have been trying to put in a good translation in “Sir Christemas” by Mathias. I will attach the carol with the translation of the French in parentheses. I’m not sure they are the best yet, but at least they make some sense. 
However, the one word that is causing me trouble is “abrayde” in the second to the last paragraph. I have looked in “old English” but basically the definition keeps coming back as something related to “scrape” or “rub off” or “wear down.” I am trying to figure out how that word fits in to the meaning of the text around it.
I would appreciate any help from choralist people who have run into this before and perhaps solved it—
Nowell, nowell.
Who is there that singeth so, Nowell, nowell?
I am here, Sir Christèmas.
Welcome, my lord Sir Christèmas!
Welcome to all, both more and less!
Come near, come near, Nowell, nowell.
Dieu vous garde, beaux sieurs, (God bless you at this beautiful time)
Tidings I you bring:
A maid hath borne a child full young,
Which causeth you to sing: Nowell, nowell.
Christ is now born of a pure maid;
In an ox-stall he is laid,
Wherefore sing we at abrayde: Nowell, nowell.
Buvez bien, buvez bien par toute la compagnie.
(Drink well, drink well all the company).
Make good cheer and be right merry,
And sing with us now joyfully: Nowell!
Thanks--Randi Von Ellefson (rvonellefson(a)
on November 12, 2015 7:37pm
The New Oxford Book of Carols prints this lyric as "Wherefor syng we all atte abrayde," and footnotes "atte abrayde" as meaning "together," though it doesn't explain the phrase farther.   Since neither "atte" nor "abrayde" is an any dictionary I've consulted, maybe the editors of that work are just guessing based on the context.
on November 12, 2015 7:38pm
Hi - We are doing this Christmas Eve, rehearsed it last night, and one of my singers was asking about thatr word. A retired Shakespere professor in the choir had already looked it up, but I cannot remember what he said as we were busy doing other things. I will let you know as soon as I find out, will call him tomorrow. He always translates things like this for me, and is very accurate.
on November 12, 2015 8:09pm
Well if that "abrayde" were "a-brayed" - then it would make some sense in that it would describe the animals in the ox-stall "braying" (singing as best they can).
Frank La Rocca
on November 12, 2015 10:15pm,&source=bl&ots=tDbWBlRJcF&sig=rd-aWQiKhxZuwNhVKL5WYshKw4w&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CDgQ6AEwBWoVChMIq7L_3tuMyQIVCMdjCh25gQan#v=onepage&q=sing%20we%20at%20abrayde%3A%20Nowell%2C&f=false
which offers the definitions "Awaken" "Rouse" with a suggestion that in context "lustily" "loudly" might be meant.
Google also gets the dictionary definitions "start" "awake suddenly" as in "Marcus in his bed lying Gan tabrayde."
to which the Oxford English Dictionary adds (under "Abraid") "to burst into motion, to dart"
on November 12, 2015 11:46pm
One of the meanings of the verb "bregdan" in Old English is "to weave/braid [together]". Its adjectival form, i.e. "woven together", would be "gebraegd", or in an Early Middle English spelling "abrayd". "Woven together" would seem an appropriate description of, ahem, a close-knit group.
Jaakko Mäntyjärvi
Helsinki, Finland
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 13, 2015 3:30am
Dieu vous garde, beaux sieurs might better be translated: God keep you, good sirs. 'Sieurs' is short for messieurs. Sorry I can't help with abrayde. 
on November 13, 2015 3:43am
The OED has quite a number of meanings for abraid (which is distinct from abrade, so nothing to do with scraping and wearing down). Among those meanings are "to exert oneself" and "to burst out in speech". So "sing we at abrayde" may be to sing energetically, or suddenly. Another possibility is a variant of abroad, which would give a meaning like "sing for all to hear".
Incidentally, "Dieu vous garde, beaux sieurs" is God keep you, fine sirs (i.e., gentlemen) - "sieur" as in "monsieur". Nothing to do with "beautiful time".
on November 13, 2015 6:23am
Randi - I'm no Middle English scholar, but I have a soft spot for Chaucer and your post set me off to do some digging. 
According to The Middle English Dictionary by Hans Kurath, "abrayde"  is a form of the word "abreiden" , which in one of its definitions means to move suddenly, to start up, to burst forth. 
"atte" to the best of my knowledge is simply "at"  although with a slightly different flavour, like the French use of "à".
So as I see it,
Wherefore sing we at abrayde: Nowell, nowell.
So we burst out singing: Nowell, nowell. 
Hope this helps!
Doug Peterman
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 13, 2015 6:27am
I have always loved this song!   Could 'atte abrayde' mean something like ' sing we and a'brayin' ?   Covers people and animals...
Linda Staiger
on November 13, 2015 7:42am
In the Oxford English Dictionary, the noun braid is defined as 'sudden movement', with sub-senses (1) 'a sudden or brisk movement; a start, jerk; a twist, wrench, strain', 'a sudden assault or onset, an attack', 'an aim to strike, the launching of a blow; sometimes a blow', 'an outburst of passion, envy, or anger; a freak, a whim' and (2) 'a moment, short space of time'. It then gives the phrases in a braid, at a braid,​ which it defines as 'on a sudden, unawares (with meaning varying between senses 1 and 2)'.
Also, the verb abraid has as one of its listed meanings 'to break out abruptly into speech; to burst into a cry; to cry out' (intransitive) and 'to utter abruptly or loudly' (transitive).
I'm sure the idea must be this one of a sudden or unexpected outburst (of song, in this case).
on November 13, 2015 8:05am
Out of curiosity I looked into this a little more.  Those who don't care for obscure philological discussion can skip this.
Neither "atte" nor "abrayde" occurs in Shakespeare.  The earliest text is in a manuscript dated to 1500-1525, but it's a copy of an earlier manuscript, so the words are older than Shakespeare.  The book A Dictionary of Hymnology: Setting Forth the Origin and History of Christian Hymns of All Ages and Nations by John Julian (C. Scribner's Sons, 1892) citing something called "Nares's Glossary" says the line means "sing we all loudly."  All in all, it looks like there's no scholarly consensus on what this phrase means.
on November 13, 2015 1:28pm
It looks like it may be one word in the printed music, but I think the underline is just to tell us to sing the a on the slurred notes, and there are actually two words. My choir member, the retired English professort, agrees pretty much with Stephen Doerr. He could not find abrayde in Shakespere or Chaucer, but found brayd, and thinks the best sense is a sudden outbreak of song. Thus ". . . wherefore sing we at a brayd" could be translated something like "That is why we suddenly break into song." Also agree with Carol Zeven,  'Sieurs' is short for messieurs., Dieu vous garde, beaux sieurs is God keep you, good sirs.
  • You must log in or register to be able to reply to this message.