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The meaning and origin of the expression: Over the moon

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Over the moon

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'Over the moon'?

Very happy or delighted.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Over the moon'?

This phrase has been part of the language for more than a century. It has become more widely used in the past twenty or thirty years, since it was adopted by English football (no, not soccer please - the game is called football) managers when interviewed after 'the boys' managed a victory.

The increased use of televised post-match interviews and hours of studio commentary during the 1970s brought many football managers before the cameras. These days such men are likely to be cultured and erudite Frenchmen or Spaniards. Before that they were usually British ex-footballers who had left schools in the English or Scottish back streets early to play football. It's fair to say that many of them have little interest in the finer points of English grammar.

Two of the best-known English football managers of recent years, who have maintained the English tradition with their engagingly entertaining way of mangling the language, are Ron Atkinson and Terry Venables. The list of quotations from them is long and includes:

"The Spaniards have been reduced to aiming aimless balls into the box." (Atkinson)

"If you can't stand the heat in the dressing room, get out of the kitchen." (Venables)

"If Glenn Hoddle said one word to his team at half time, it was concentration and focus." (Atkinson)

"I felt a lump in my throat as the ball went in." (Venables)

The humorous magazine Private Eye picked up on these and began publishing them in its Colemanballs column. The name was taken from the sports commentator David Coleman, who could give even the managers a run for their money:

"Nottingham have now lost six matches in a row without winning." (Coleman)

It was really Private Eye's lampooning that made this phrase popular. There is an associated phrase, 'sick as a parrot', which was used when 'the boys' lost. This has a much shorter pedigree and came to the public's consciousness following the League Cup Final of 1978. Phil Thompson, who played for the strong favourites Liverpool Football Club ended up on the losing side, being beaten 1-0 by Nottingham Forest. In a televised interview after the match he announced that "I'm as sick as a parrot".

The phrase, which may well have been coined by an anonymous Liverpool wag and repeated by Thompson, was probably influenced the the famous Monty Python 'Dead Parrot' sketch, which was broadcast in 1969 and could be quoted verbatim by many in the UK at the time and which remains one of the most popular sketches ever shown on British TV.

Over the moonWell, that's the last thirty years. The actual origin of 'over the moon' is much earlier and, although not widely used before the 1970s, it would have been familiar to all who grew up in Britain in the 20th century. Why, because the source was included, as High Diddle Diddle, in the influential 16th century nursery rhyme collection, Mother Goose's Melody; or Sonnets from the Cradle, circa 1760:

High diddle diddle,
The Cat and the Fiddle,
The Cow jump'd over the Moon,
The little dog laugh'd to see such Craft,
And the Dish ran away with the Spoon.

As with most nursery rhymes, the first appearance in print may well post-date the first use by years, centuries even - children didn't write their rhymes down. The text of such rhymes was subject to a 'Chinese whispers' effect over all of that time and, whatever the origin may have been, the version passed down to us is quite probably nonsense and isn't easily interpreted. What is clear is that the 'over the moon' line is a reference to excitement and energy. That's evidenced by one of the earliest allusions to the phrase in print - Charles Molloy's The Coquet, or, The English Chevalier, 1718:

"Tis he! I know him now: I shall jump over the Moon for Joy!"