The History and Meaning of the word 'Honeymoon'

What does getting married have to do with honey and the moon?

Brenda Thomas, writing for
3-minute read
Episode #838
The Quick And Dirty

The fond feelings you have when something is new tend to wane much like the moon at the end of a cycle. The word "honeymoon" may also have been influenced by honey mead being a common wedding gift more than a thousand years ago.

Alan on Twitter asked us to look into the origin of the word "honeymoon" after getting a sentence in Duolingo Spanish that included the phrase "la luna de miel," which also seems to translate literally to "moon of honey." What does honey have to do with it? Let's start with the idea of a honeymoon in general and moon cycles.

A honeymoon was originally a length of time

Do you know that most couples get married in the months of May through October in the United States? Even if you didn’t know that, you probably know what follows a wedding: the honeymoon! Today, we tend to think of a honeymoon as a vacation for newlyweds. But, it used to refer simply to the 30 days or so after a wedding, hence the word “moon” in “honeymoon.” 

Honeymoon feelings wane like the moon

A lunar cycle is 29.53 days and begins with a new moon. That’s when the moon, if you can see it, looks like a black disk in the night sky. As the moon orbits the Earth, Earth orbits the sun, and the angles between sun, moon, and Earth change resulting in changes in the amount of sunlight reflected off the moon. In the first quarter of a lunar cycle, you see a little bit more of the moon each night in its waxing phases. Then, in the last quarter, you gradually see less and less of the moon during its waning phases.

Waxing, in that context, means growing or increasing. Conversely, waning means to decrease, decline, or diminish. Both waxing and waning can be used to describe more than moon phases. Many things wax and wane, and that brings us back to the word “honeymoon.”

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, John Heywood, an English writer of plays, poems, and proverbs, is credited with first using “hony moone” in print in 1546, to refer to the first month of marriage. Through the centuries, various spellings, such as “honney moone” or “hony moon,” have appeared in print, but they all referred to the same thing: mirthfulness that grows at the beginning of something new and then gradually wanes. That new thing could be marriage, employment, or some other new phase or experience in life when those initial days are marked by friendliness, happiness, and goodwill that gradually wane in sweetness.

The new thing could be marriage, employment, or some other new phase or experience in life.

Honey mead was a common gift for newlyweds

Some have suggested that “honey” in “honeymoon” can be traced back to the 5th century when newly-married couples were given a month’s supply of mead, which was a sweet, fermented drink made from honey. In that first month as a married couple, the mead waned as did the sweetness of being newly married.

You don't have to be a newlywed to have a honeymoon period

Even if you have never been married, you have likely had a “honeymoon” period in some other context. Maybe you had a new job or roommate and experienced an initial sense of excitement and getting along well that lasted for a time until gradually waning. That’s when we might say, “The honeymoon is over.” 

When a honeymoon is over, it doesn’t necessarily mean that spouses no longer love each other or co-workers and roommates no longer get along. It simply means that the novelty of the new situation has waned and demonstrates what we already know through experience: that the excitement associated with starting something new is transient. Honeymoons are wonderful, but they don't last forever because, by definition, something can only be new for a short time.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

About the Author

Brenda Thomas, writing for Grammar Girl

Brenda Thomas is a freelance writer and online educator.