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The meaning and origin of the expression: Happily ever after

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Happily ever after

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'Happily ever after'?

'Happily ever after' or 'Happy ever after' are typically used as a formulaic ending to a fairy tale or children's story, or in romantic novels to describe wedded bliss.

The meaning is quite literal - 'from then onwards and forever, happiness pervades'.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Happily ever after'?

The meaning and origin of 'Happily ever after'.
'Happy ever after' or 'Happily ever after' have
long been stock phrases of romantic
novelists to describe a marital idyll
- but that's not how the expressions
originated.

The line "...and they all lived happy ever after" is a stock ending in children's fairy tales and to other romantic stories. Or, at least, it used to be. Such mawkishness has rather gone out of favour in the 21st century. These days, children's stories are more Grimm than Disney - and, true to form, 'happily ever after' wasn't the ending to any of Grimm's fairy tales. Even Barbara Cartland style romance novels now avoid the notion that once the bride and groom say 'I do' then life is an unending idyll.

The first time that the term 'happily ever after' is used in relation to marriage is in Giovanni Boccaccio's translation of Il Decamerone, 1702:

Paganino, hearing the News, married the Widow, and as they were very well acquainted, so they lived very lovingly, and happily, ever after.

However, that's not how the phrase was originally used. When first coined, the expression 'the ever after' was a reference to Heaven.

When people were described as 'happy ever after' what was meant was that they were 'happy in the ever after'.

This dates back to at least the 16th century, as in this piece by the French Protestant reformer Augustin Marlorat - A Catholike and Ecclesiasticall exposition of the Holy Gospell, 1570:

But after that Christe rose againe from death, then they were apointed ordinary teachers of the church: & in this respecte this honor pertained vnto the ever after

The first use of 'happy ever after' that I know of is from the same writer, a few years later, in A Catholike exposition vpon the Reuelation of Sainct John, 1574:

Moreouer John had commended faith sufficiently when he sayde, that the dead whiche dye in the Lord are happie ever after.

So, the 16th century 'happy [in the] ever after' meant eternal happiness in heaven, which migrated into the 18th century 'happy ever after' meaning 'together forever in wedded bliss'.

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