Learn English – the history of the expression “many moons ago”


What is the history of “many moons ago”?

Oxford Dictionaries tell me that the idiom means “a long time ago.”

  • That's when we first met many, many moons ago and then we started having him on as a regular guest maybe once a month, maybe even twice a month.

When I Googled "origin of ‘many moons ago’" the only relevant page I found was Yahoo! Answers whose best answer was: “many moons ago means a long time ago” But a second commenter said:

“This idiom actually started with the Native Americans. They did not keep track of time like we do now, so they only knew days and nights by sun and moon. To say that you are talking about something a long time ago, they say "many moons ago" because the moon has shown many times since the "event" they are talking about happened.”

Can someone provide more detail for the origin and meaning of this phrase?

Best Answer

Many moons ago is an old-fashioned expression that means a long time ago. Moons refer to months (month derives from moon) and the expression meaning is just literal. According to Ngram its usage is from the 18th century. It appears the expression is just a popular/common way to refer to an ancient measure of time.

  • The word, "moon" is the origin of the word, "month," which is roughly the amount of time it takes the moon to travel through its all of its phases in the sky. Months on the Julian calendar are named after Roman gods, emperors and numbers. The Algonquin tribes of the Northeast took a more natural approach, and named their full moons (and the month it appeared in) after what was going on around them.



  • Old English monað, from Proto-Germanic *menoth- (cognates: Old Saxon manoth, *related to menon- "moon" (see moon (n.); the month was calculated from lunar phases). Its cognates mean only "month" in the Romance languages, but in Germanic generally continue to do double duty.