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Your Questions About Heels Over Head

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Lisa Your Questions About Heels Over Head

Lisa asks…

Phrase question – “Head over heels”?

The phrase means turned upside-down, topsy-turvy, brain mangled, etc. It’s usually finished off with “in love”.

I get all of that; that’s not the problem. What’s always confused me is WHY we say it. Our heads are almost always over our heels. Wouldn’t it make more sense to say “heels over head“? Wouldn’t that convey the meaning better?

What do you think?

lizzyrose cropped Your Questions About Heels Over Head

Our pick of the answers:

I thought your question (and the answers also!) was really interesting, so I thought I’d look it up. What I found out was that it really did start out, in the 14th century, as “heels over head,” but that at least in some parts of the world it had changed to “head over heels,” at least by the 17th century. Wikitionary says it probably changed because of “phrasal elegance,” meaning, I think, that it just sounds better. I dunno, I think it just means that nobody knows why it changed!

It does seem easier to me to say “head over heels,” though, but maybe that is just because I’m used to it. It sounds a little more like falling, though, and also the long eee sound at the end makes a good ending.

Here is an interesting discussion of the change:
“It looks so odd because during its history it got turned upside down, just like the idea it represents. When it first appeared, back in the fourteenth century, it was written as heels over head, which makes a lot more sense. Logically, it meant to be upside down, or, as to turn heels over head, to turn a somersault.

It became inverted around the end of the eighteenth century, it seems as the result of a series of mistakes by authors who didn’t stop to think about the conventional phrase they were writing. The two forms lived alongside each other for most of the next century — the famous Davy Crockett was an early user of the modern form in 1834: “I soon found myself head over heels in love with this girl”, but as late as the beginning of the twentieth century L Frank Baum consistently used the older form in his Oz books: “But suddenly he came flying from the nearest mountain and tumbled heels over head beside them”. And Lucy Maud Montgomery stayed with it in her Anne of Windy Poplars, published as late as 1936: “Gerald’s pole, which he had stuck rather deep in the mud, came away with unexpected ease at his third tug and Gerald promptly shot heels over head backward into the water”.”

It could be just sloppiness, as they sort of imply above. For instance now a lot of people say “I could care less,” when that literally means just the opposite of what they want to say. The correct way is “I couldn’t care less.” Either way we understand what they are saying, though! I even have to think about it a second to know which is logically correct, since it is so common to use the “incorrect” one.

Isn’t language funny! Even when we don’t make sense, we still understand each other! And then sometimes what we are saying is perfectly logical but we don’t understand each other at all!

Susan Your Questions About Heels Over Head

Susan asks…

head over heels? or heels over head?

why is it when someone refers to a person that ls”in love “that they are “head over heels“this makes no sence to me .The picture I have in my mind is a person “heels over head” >Is that what they really ment?how or who “coined this phrase”

lizzyrose cropped Your Questions About Heels Over Head

Our pick of the answers:

Hmmm i once thought that too….
Excited, and/or turning cartwheels to demonstrate one’s excitement
‘Head over heels’ is now most often used as part of ‘head over heels in love’. When first coined it wasn’t used that way though and referred exclusively to being temporarily the wrong way up. It is one of many similar phrases that we use to describe things that are not in their usual state – ‘upside-down’, ‘topsy-turvy’, ‘topple up tail’, ‘arse over tea-kettle’, ‘bass-ackwards’ etc.

Herbert Lawrence’s Contemplative Man, 1771 is the first known citation of ‘head over heels’:

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