Saturday, November 19, 2011

Trip the Light Fantastic

Tom from Petoskey asked about the phrase, trip the light fantastic. Most of us know the phrase because of the song, The Sidewalks of New York, whose chorus contains this:

Boys and girls together / Me and Mamie O'Rourke,
Tripped the light fantastic, / On the sidewalks of New York.

We associate tripping with stumbling, with being clumsy, but in Chaucer’s time, it meant to hop, skip, or step nimbly. Milton’s L’Allegro contained these lines: “Come, and trip it as you go / 
On the light fantastic toe.”

The word light is almost redundant, meaning as it does nimbly or gracefully. Fantastic meant in an imaginative or artistic manner. So we end up with, “to dance in a graceful way.”

SIDEBAR: The Sidewalks of New York

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