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Moonstruck: 9 Terms of the Lunar Lexicon

moon, moonshine, moonstruck, over the moon

Whether speculating on the havoc it wreaks when it’s full or waxing poetic on the beauty of its glow, people love talking about the moon. This age-old fascination with our celestial satellite has resulted in a lexicon loaded with lunar-themed words, phrases, and meanings. Consider the array of senses we have for the word moon itself: in addition to referencing our silvery orb, the term can mean “to act or wander abstractly or listlessly,” “to sentimentalize or remember nostalgically,” “to gaze dreamily,” or even “to expose one’s buttocks.” Here’s a look at the meanings and histories of 9 moony terms and phrases.

Lunatic
Nowadays, most of us would describe a lunatic as a person of unsound mind. But in the Middle Ages, one might describe a lunatic as a person who is acting under the influence of luna, the Latin word for “moon.” The notion that the moon causes certain kinds of madness or evokes dangerous aspects of our personalities has been around for millennia; Aristotle suggested that the moon could cause insanity by manipulating fluids in the brain, much in the same way it commands the tides.

Moonraker
In sailing, a moonraker is a light sail set at the top of the mast. But this term is also a demonym for people from Wiltshire, England. As the story goes, a few men from Wiltshire were discovered trying to rake the moon’s reflection out of a pond. However, if you ask a Wiltshire native, he or she might tell you another version of the story: the men were raking a pond for kegs of smuggled brandy, and when authorities appeared, the rakers feigned madness.

Moonstruck
Many of us use this term to mean “dreamily romantic,” a sense that was famously evoked in the 1987 movie titled Moonstruck starring Cher and Nicolas Cage, but drawing on the theme of moon-induced madness, moonstruck can also mean “mentally deranged, supposedly by the influence of the moon.”

Moonlight
Not all moon words conjure insanity or dreamy contemplation—moonlight, for example, can evoke industriousness. In addition to the noun meaning of “light of the moon,” moonlight can also mean “to work at an additional job, especially at night.” Approximately 70 years before that dutiful verb sense arose, moonlight meant to commit a crime at night. Starting at the turn of the 20th century, moonlighting also described fleeing one’s residence under the cover of darkness to skip out on paying rent.

Moonshine
First appearing in the 1400s as another term for moonlight, moonshine is now most commonly used to refer to smuggled or illicitly distilled liquor, a popular term during Prohibition. This black-market booze likely earned this moony moniker because it was smuggled by the light (or shine) of the moon. Moonshine can also mean “nonsense.”

Honeymoon
Many old languages had one word for both month and moon, since it takes approximately one month for the moon to orbit around Earth. The moon in honeymoon draws on this temporal sense, reminding newlyweds that their period of blissful harmony has an expiration date.

Blue moon
This phrase is commonly means “very rarely,” as in “once in a blue moon,” and is sometimes used to suggest that something nearly never happens. Although the phrase is also commonly used to refer to the second full moon in a calendar month, it seems more likely that the “very rarely” sense came from the occasional appearance of a moon as blue in color due to extreme atmospheric conditions.

Over the moon
One of the earliest uses of this idiom, which means “extremely delighted” or “very pleased,” comes courtesy of the following nursery-rhyme line from the 1700s: “High diddle, diddle, The Cat and the Fiddle, The Cow jump’d over the Moon.” Centuries later, J.R.R. Tolkien explained the fantastical abilities of the high-vaulting cow in his book of poetry, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.

Reach for the moon
A few centuries before cows began jumping over the moon to express their glee, people talking about the moon as a place or thing that is difficult or impossible to reach or obtain. The idiom “reach for the moon,” which means “to desire or attempt something unattainable or difficult to obtain,” incorporates this this wistful theme.

What are some of your favorite moon-related words or terms?

25 Comments

  1. Babbles n Blue -  March 29, 2014 - 5:25 pm

    SILVER TONGUE

    Reply
  2. Marienne Litolff -  March 23, 2014 - 2:42 am

    ” Moonpath” does it for me – whenever I’m where one is I want to follow it.

    Reply
  3. Pam-agram -  February 6, 2014 - 7:29 am

    Wow! I always love sneaking out of my house at night and climbing up to the roof to see the moon. BUT I moved to the city. And now all the haze and pollution make it practically impossible.

    Reply
  4. Ricky Ryu -  January 28, 2014 - 12:00 am

    Quiet interesting article

    Reply
  5. wolf tamer and coal miner -  January 27, 2014 - 3:03 am

    A Soliloquy of the Full Moon, She Being in a Mad Passion
    by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

    Now as Heaven is my Lot, they’re the Pests of the Nation!
    Wherever they can come,
    With clankum and blankum
    ‘Tis all Botheration, & Hell and Damnation,
    With fun, jeering
    Conjuring
    Sky-staring,
    Loungering,
    And still to the tune of Transmogrification -
    Those muttering
    Spluttering
    Ventriliquogusty
    Poets
    With no Hats
    Or Hats that are rusty.
    They’re my Torment and Curse
    And harass me worse
    And bait me and bay me, far sorer I vow
    Than the Screech of the Owl
    Or the witch-wolf’s long howl,
    Or sheep-killing Butcher-dog’s inward Bow wow
    For me they all spite – an unfortunate Wight.
    And the very first moment that I came to Light
    A Rascal call’d Voss, the more to his scandal
    Turn’d me into a sickle with never a handle.
    A Night or two after a worse Rogue there came,
    The head of the Gang, one Wordsworth by name -
    “Ho! What’s in the wind?” ‘Tis the voice of a Wizard!
    I saw him look at me most terribly blue!
    He was hunting for witch-rhymes from great A to Izzard,
    And as soon as he found them made no more ado
    But chang’d me at once to a little Canoe.
    From this strange Enchantment uncharm’d by degrees
    I began to take courage & hop’d for some Ease,
    When one Coleridge, a Raff of the self-same Banditti
    Past by – & intending no doubt to be witty,
    Because I’d th’ ill-fortune his taste to displease,
    He turned up his nose,
    And in pitiful Prose
    Made me into the half of a Cheshire Cheese.
    Well, a night or two past – it was wind, rain, & hail -
    And I ventur’d abroad in a thick Cloak & veil -
    But the very first Evening he saw me again
    The last-mentioned Ruffian popp’d out of his Den -
    I was resting a moment on the bare edge of Naddle;
    I fancy the sight of me turn’d his Brains addle -
    For what was I now?
    A complete Barley-mow
    And when I climb’d higher he made a long leg,
    And chang’d me at once to a Ostrich’s Egg -
    But now Heaven be praised, in contempt of the Loon,
    I am I myself, I, the jolly full Moon.
    Yet my heart is still fluttering -
    For I heard the Rogue muttering –
    He was hulking and skulking at the skirt of a Wood
    When lightly & brightly on tip-toe I stood
    On the long, level Line of a motionless Cloud
    And “Ho! what a Skittle-ground!” quoth he aloud
    And wished from his heart nine Nine-pins to see
    In brightness & size just proportion’d to me.
    So I fear’d from my soul,
    That he’d make me a Bowl,
    But in spite of his spite
    This was more than his might
    And still Heaven be prais’d! in contempt of the Loon
    I am I myself, I, the jolly full Moon.

    Reply
  6. Rickedy Rick -  January 24, 2014 - 10:43 am

    Tell the men, it’s time to shoot the moon!

    Reply
  7. Cody Wolfface -  January 19, 2014 - 9:18 am

    I am a werewolf and I find this article offensive.

    Reply
  8. Ebony the wolf -  January 15, 2014 - 3:52 am

    I like the full moon because it gives the most light to hunt by. Speaking of which, that’s my Pack Alpha calling for the hunt to start. Bye, and good hunting to you all!

    Reply
  9. Ebony the wolf -  January 15, 2014 - 3:49 am

    The wolves in my pack call them “moon-circles.” I was born in the Moon-circle of Frost, the first moon-circle of the Season of Falling Leaves. That’s my favorite season.

    Reply
  10. Virginia Lathan -  January 13, 2014 - 6:59 pm

    Last summer I grew some moon flowers in my greenhouse. They’re silky white and only bloom at night. Watching them come out after dark was surreal!

    Reply
  11. wolf tamer and tree puncher -  December 22, 2013 - 6:42 am

    @HungerGamesFan88:
    We need to stick Justin Bieber in the Hunger Games. Then, according to a person who commented as “Fangirl” on a different article (I think it was the one about the word “ironic,” but I’m not sure), 95% of girls would cry, 4% would celebrate, and 1% would run around carrying knives and screaming “Die! Die! Die!” I would be in the 4% celebrating. The world is better off without Justin Bieber. I can’t wait to watch Catching Fire (it just came out!)! :)

    Reply
  12. Cloverpaw -  December 12, 2013 - 7:23 am

    We Warrior cats use the term “moon” rather than “month,” because 30 days is about the time it takes for the moon to cycle. A half moon to Twolegs is about 2 weeks, and a quarter moon is 1 week. Tonight is the full moon, and I’m going to my first Gathering! I can’t wait. Oh – is it time to go already? Don’t worry, Thrushpaw, I’ll tell you all about it when I get back. Okay, I’m coming, Bramblestar!

    Cloverpaw + Stormpaw

    Reply
  13. Jarod -  December 10, 2013 - 11:05 am

    Kick ass NASA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  14. HungerGamesFan88 -  December 4, 2013 - 3:06 pm

    I like “lunar”. It sounds pretty.
    But I hate Mondays.
    (Moon-day, Monday…)

    Reply
  15. Bill -  December 4, 2013 - 11:00 am

    Astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson has a different explanation for the word ‘Honeymoon’:

    “…that would be what you’d call it other full moon names you’ve heard of…the harvest moon is one of them. The honey moon is one. That’s the moon that’s in June. The honeymoon because that moon actually never gets very high in the sky and it’s amber the entire time it takes on the color of honey and it’s call the honeymoon and you get married in june — that’s where we get the name “honeymoon”.

    Reply
  16. Ram -  December 3, 2013 - 11:23 pm

    Nice. What about Moonwalk? forgotten wlak of MJ??

    Reply
  17. Manjit P.H. -  December 3, 2013 - 10:23 pm

    What about the famous song “MOONCHILD” of Iron Maiden?

    Reply
  18. DAVID -  December 3, 2013 - 8:05 pm

    WEIRD

    Reply
  19. anonymous -  December 3, 2013 - 4:17 pm

    MOONCAKES

    Reply
  20. Afnan Linjawi -  December 3, 2013 - 1:29 pm

    Let’s not forget the yummy moon pies!

    Reply
  21. Lynn English -  December 3, 2013 - 12:39 pm

    Around these parts, we use the term “moon dance” in reference to a bullheaded attempt at something challenging – and often succeeding where others predicted failure. As in: “His dissertation topic is a real moon dance.”

    Reply
  22. Ali Ebrahimi -  December 3, 2013 - 12:04 pm

    Old languages had one word for both month and moon because there was no other reason for considering 30 days as a time unit (month) other than moon apparent cycle.

    Reply
  23. Luke McCarthy -  December 3, 2013 - 4:14 am

    And of course there’s “mooning”, showing your bare arse ;-)

    Reply
  24. Luke McCarthy -  December 3, 2013 - 4:13 am

    One I’ve seen used a lot lately is “moonshot”, which seems to be used to mean some difficult and amazing achievement (usually technology-related), obviously referring to the moon landings.

    Reply
  25. Shizzle McQuizzle -  December 2, 2013 - 8:54 pm

    Moonshine is also named as it is because of the “moonlight glow” it produces when you shake it in a jar (if it is made correctly). The whole fluid will grow white if you shake it.

    Reply

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