Daily Archives: October 10, 2010

glad

My mother is in town, and we drove up to Collingwood today to spend a day with my wife’s side of the family; I, like a good lad, was the driver. Across the back window was a bunch of glads, their bases wrapped in a plastic bag (not a Glad bag, just a smaller one); in the trunk were two pumpkin pies my mom made last night, each covered with a square of Glad Wrap. Also along in the trunk were some glad rags: my wife’s exceptionally fetching cocktail dress from a recent reunion of professional figure skaters in France, for showing off but not for wearing all day.

The weather was beautiful, for which we were glad; the sun was shining, and the driving was smooth. All the family was happily gathered, which gladdened us even further. It was just an immediate-family do, no cater-cousins to glad-hand over cocktail shrimp. A half dozen children were playing in a toy-strewn lower room, the most noisy toy of which was one that kept playing Christmas songs – a bit out of season; Thanksgiving may have its own glad tidings of great joy, but they aren’t the ones spoken of in the Bible.

In short, it was a glad day (by which I do not mean it was Canada’s first, and North America’s oldest, gay and lesbian bookstore, Glad Day, which is on Yonge Street in downtown Toronto). And the sight of those gladioli had me thinking of Sir Hubert Parry’s coronation anthem, “I was glad,” which I have sung a few times with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. (I might also have thought of “Gladsome Radiance,” the English translation of “Svyetye Tikhiy,” part of Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil.)

Ah, glad. Such a bright word, with its low front /æ/ vowel (the word itself was originally spelled glæd back when we had æ in use for English words and not just Latin loans), and its shiny, smooth /gl/ onset, one of the great English phonaesthemes, as in glimmer, gleam, glamour, glow, et cetera. Indeed, though glad has meant “happy, joyful” for as long as it has been in English, its sense evolved from “bright” and even “smooth”.

Ah, now, what bright, smooth thing might one picture with such a word form as glad? Well, to ancient Romans, it would be a sword. The Latin for “sword” was gladius (not related to English glad). From this we get gladiator and, yes, gladiolus – those pretty flowers have sword-shaped leaves, after all. My, my… glad the impaler? Well, there was a Glad who is said to have ruled Hungary for a time around AD 900. And there was a horse called Glad that was ridden by Norse gods gong to their daily judgements at Yggdrasil. But now one is more likely to think of the shiny white Man from Glad and his plastic bags.

But even if Glad bags are strong, glad has gotten weaker. At the time of the writing of the Book of Common Prayer in 1662, “I was glad” could be used to transate Latin “Lætatus sum”, which we would more likely now render as “I was joyful”. Now glad can be used, certainly, for a strong positive feeling, especially if preceded by really, but think how you feel when you use any of the following most common glad phrases:

glad to see you
glad you did
glad to hear it
glad you came
glad you asked
glad to (finally) meet you
glad I caught you
glad you caught it

It’s seldom insincere, but I’m glad you liked it is not as strong as I rejoice in your liking it. Still, it’s nice to have a word that means about the same as happy but that has a bit more shine, sturdiness, and brevity to it – and rhymes with mad and sad and bad. Aren’t you glad we have it?