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Over the moon

Q From Raymond Graham: Can you tell me what the expression over the moon means? I don’t find it on your site, yet it seems to be a popularly used expression.

A Someone who says this is delighted or extraordinarily happy.

In Britain, it’s intimately linked with football (Americans will know this game as soccer). It became very popular in the 1970s as one of a pair of opposing phrases that were often on the lips of players or managers at the end of a game. If the team had lost, the speaker was as sick as a parrot (in a state of deep depression, not physically ill). If the team had won, he was over the moon.

But the expression is actually much older — there are records of it from the nineteenth century. Eric Partridge found an example in the diary of May, Lady Cavendish, for 7 February 1857, in which she noted the reaction of the announcement of the birth of her youngest brother to the rest of his siblings: “they were at first utterly incredulous and then over the moon”.

The origin is surely the nursery rhyme Hey, Diddle Diddle in which the cow jumped over the moon. We know that’s right because earlier writers used a fuller version. For example, “Ready to jump over the moon for delight” appeared in Thomas Chandler Haliburton’s The Clockmaker in 1840.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 16 Jul. 2005

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 16 July 2005.