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Away In a what exactly Television historian Mary Beard questions 'weird' lyrics in classic Christmas carol
In Britain, the words 'manger' and 'crib' can mean the same thing; a trough from which an animal can eat
08:58 GMT, 14 December 2012
The lyrics are familiar from a thousand nativity plays and Christmas carol services.
But what do the words to Away In a Manger mean exactly
That is the question pondered by television historian Mary Beard after she attended this year's annual carol service at King's College, Cambridge.
Confusion: Mary Beard, a professor in classics at Cambridge, wrote about the 'weird' Away In a Manger lyrics in a newspaper column
The historian, a professor in classics at Cambridge University, wrote about how she was struck by the phrase 'no crib for a bed' as she perused the lyrics printed in her order of service.
Writing in her column in the Times Literary Supplement, Professor Beard said of the printed lyrics: 'It did make you reflect on what made a good carol, what was the right blend of sentimentality and jolliness.
'It also made you reflect on how weird some of the words were (what actually does “no crib for a bed” mean),' she added.
Carols: The historian attended this year's King's College carol service in Cambridge (file picture)
The confusion is thought to arise from the fact that – at least in Britain – a crib and a manger are essentially the same thing; a trough from which an animal can eat fodder.
Meaning interpreting the phrase 'away in a manger, no crib for a bed' could present something of a conundrum.
But in the U.S., where the carol was first published in Philadelphia in 1885, a crib is defined as a small bed for infants and young children.
One reader posted a reply to Professor Beard's column which said: 'I think we must apply a principle of charity and interpret the words in a way that makes them sensible.
'As a manger has just been mentioned, we must take “crib” to have only the meaning of a proper little bed designed for children.'