Moonstruck: 9 Terms of the Lunar Lexicon

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.

What does moon mean?

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.

1. Lunatic

A lunatic is “a person of unsound mind,” though that term is now considered dated and often offensive.Lunatic derives from the Latin luna, “moon.” The notion that the moon causes certain kinds of madness or induces dangerous aspects of our personalities has been around for millennia; Aristotle and Pliny the Elder, for instance, suggested the light of the moon affected mental health.

2. 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, Wiltshire men centuries back smuggled in brandy and gin by hiding them in ponds, as the alcohol was heavily taxed. One night, some excise enforcers were nearly caught—but the clever smugglers got way by feigning madness!

And so moonraker became a term for an inhabitant of Wiltshire (and a simpleton more generally).

3. 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.”

4. 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 mean “to work at an additional job, especially at night.” This sense is recorded by the 1950s.

In the late 1800s, moonlight meant to commit a crime at night. And, 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.

5. Moonshine

Recorded by the 1400s as another term for moonlight, moonshine (starting in the late 1700s) is now most commonly used to refer to smuggled or illicitly distilled liquor, a popular term for whiskey during Prohibition.

This black-market booze likely earned this moony moniker because it was smuggled by the light (or shine) of the moon (and may be connected to moonraker, as we saw above). Moonshine can also mean “nonsense, foolish talk.”

6. Honeymoon

The word moon is related to the word month, as it indeed takes approximately one month for the moon to orbit around Earth. The moon in honeymoon draws on this temporal sense, apparently—a reminder to newlyweds that their period of blissful harmony has an expiration date.

7. Blue moon

Blue moon 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 used to refer to a rare, second full moon in a calendar month, the “very rarely” sense could also come from the occasional appearance of a moon as blue in color due to atmospheric conditions.

8. 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.

9. Reach for the moon

The moon is also a figure for a place or thing that is difficult or impossible to reach or obtain. The idiom reach for the moon, which means “to aspire to great ambitions,” incorporates this idea.

The notion of a moonshot, from that ambitious project of launching a rocket to the moon, is a similar metaphor.

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

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