Etymology of Honeymoon

With Wills and Kate (oops, I mean HRH The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge) currently enjoying their honeymoon in the Indian Ocean paradise islands of the Seychelles – now’s a sensible time to discuss the origins of the term honeymoon.

A little on-line research points to various explanations – here’s a typical one:

“1540s, hony moone, but probably much older, from honey in reference to the new marriage’s sweetness, and moon in reference to how long it would probably last, or from the changing aspect of the moon: no sooner full than it begins to wane. French has cognate lune de miel, but German version is flitterwochen (pl.), from flitter “tinsel.” ”

Another explanation sites the origins for the word as dating back to the Norse word “hjunottsmanathr”, which refers to the practice of men capturing a maiden from a neighbouring village and keeping her in hiding until her family gave up looking for her and it was safe to return to one’s own village.

Fun as these explanations might be, they are in all likelihood completely wrong!

The earliest known use of the honeymoon concept dates back to Deuteronomy 24:5 “When a man is newly wed, he need not go out on a military expedition, nor shall any public duty be imposed on him. He shall be exempt for one year for the sake of his family, to bring joy to the wife he has married.”

The term ‘honeymoon’ dates back to the 5th century AD and a time when the calendar for many cultures was based on the cycles of the moon rather than the sun i.e. the lunar month. It was common practice that a newly-wed couple would drink plenty of mead during their first month of married life. Mead is a honey-based alcoholic drink well regarded for causing merriment and there are plenty of references to it’s aphrodisiac properties.

One of the earliest English language references is from the 16th century, when Samuel Johnson referred to ““…the first month after marriage, when there is nothing but tenderness and pleasure”.

Another early English reference comes from Richard Huloet’s ‘Abcedarium Anglico-Latinum pro Tyrunculis’ of 1552 “…Hony mone, a term proverbially applied to such as be newly married, which will not fall out at the first, but th’one loveth the other at the beginning exceedingly, the likelihood of their exceadinge love appearing to aswage, ye which time the vulgar people call the hony mone”.

The modern practice of newly weds taking a holiday together, dates back to the days of the Raj in the Indian subcontinent. In the early 1800s, British imperialists based in India noticed an Indian Upper class custom for newly married couples of elite casts to take a “bridal tour”. Rather than being a private affair they would often be accompanied by family or friends; the idea was to visit those friends and relatives who weren’t able to attend the wedding.

First borrowed by the British, the custom spread across Europe and in France from the early 19th century (sic 1820) the practice was known as a ‘journey in the style of the English’ or voyage à la façon anglaise.

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