People who say that money doesn’t bring happiness are often those who don’t have any to spare. It’s a sour grapes kind of statement designed to make us feel that money is more of a bind than a boon and that we’d be happier without it. But as WoodyAllen said: “Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.”
The original meaning of happiness was very much attached to the sense of opportunity, fortune and luck.
We get our word from Middle English via the Scandinavian ‘hap’, whose original meaning was good luck or chance. The character for happiness in Chinese is exactly the same as that for luck.
In other words, it used to be that if you were lucky and successful you were happy. But nowadays, when someone wins a huge fortune on the lottery or the football pools, someone will say that money doesn’t bring happiness.
The Spanish and French get their word for happiness from Latin. In Spanish it’s ‘felicidad’ (from ‘felix’) and the French use ‘félicité’ (from ‘felicitas’). Spanish lexicographers define ‘felicidad’ as a “state of well being achieved through the possession of an asset”. Money, perhaps?
In English we use the same Latin root as the Spanish and the French to give us ‘felicity’ and related words. In Middle English it was ‘felicitee’, which Chaucer used in The Canterbury Tales. Shakespeare coined the participle ‘felicitate’ in King Lear.
In English we also have ‘felicific’, which means making, or tending to make, happy. I have only ever come across this word in the dictionary and I seldom see or hear ‘felicity’ or ‘felicitous’.
I never use ‘felicity’ in speech or writing, nor do other people: in Eric Partridge’s monumental Dictionary of Slang, there’s a full column of terms using happy and not a single entry on felicity. And in books of quotations you’ll find dozens of examples under happy but a mere half dozen that feature felicity.
In the Services, ‘Happy’ wasn’t just one of Snow White’s little friends, it was also the nickname given to anyone whose surname was Day. But in the Royal Navy, someone called ‘Appy Day’ was a pessimistic and inveterate grouser.
Most men and women weren’t all that happy during military service (especially in time of war) and that led to the ironic greeting: “Are you happy in the Services?” It was always said, of course, to someone who wasn’t happy at that moment.
In 1940s Army slang, a ‘bomb happy’ soldier was one whose nerves were completely shattered due to constant exposure to bombing and imminent mutilation or death. On the other hand, a soldier was called ‘flak-happy’ when he was reckless and beyond caring about his personal safety. There was another kind of recklessness: when a soldier was less than cautious because of his pending demobilisation, he was said to be ‘demob-happy’.
Happy has strong links with the drinking of alcohol. A person is said to be ‘happy’ when slightly and cheerfully tipsy. Perhaps that person had said ‘happy days’ once (or twice) too often. The ‘happy days’ toast became popular in 1910. A toast used by RAF airmen from about 1915 was ‘happy landings’, especially when a sortie was imminent.
The term ‘happy days’ took on a new meaning in the 1920s when it was a popular mixture of ale and beer in Glasgow pubs. The ‘happy hour’, a time when the second drink is free, is still used today to attract much needed customers to Palma’s overcrowded bar scene. But in the theatre, ‘happy hours’ is rhyming slang for flowers.
The words ‘as happy as’ feature in many similes. We can be ‘as happy as a pig in muck’, which means content with one’s surroundings. In America it became the much cleaner ‘as happy as a pig in clover’. In Canada, ‘as happy as a nun weeding asparagus’ has definite erotic connotations.
Sometimes the ‘as happy as’ similes are ironic — and even cruel, especially when used about people who are far from happy. One of these, an Australian one, is ‘as happy as a bastard on Father’s Day’. Yes, very Australian.
A ‘happy ender’ is a story that finishes on a joyful note, particularly when referring to a novel. And a ‘happy family’ is a group of animals of different natures that quietly share the same living quarters.
A friend mentioned that some 75 years ago the expression ‘make love’ to someone simply meant to chat them up and flirt verbally. When did it become a euphemism for sexual intercourse. As a teenager I also used the words ‘make love to’ but never in the full sexual sense.
In a 1926 diary entry, novelist Evelyn Waugh had this to say about Elizabeth Ponsonby, a well-known bright young thing: “Rather to my surprise, but considerably to my gratification, Elizabeth Ponsonby made vigorous love to me which I am sorry now I did not accept.”
All Elizabeth did was to let Waugh know she fancied him very much. Elizabeth was the kind of young woman who partied every night of the week. But she paid dearly for her hedonistic lifestyle: at the age of 36 she died of alcohol poisoning.
The innocent sense of ‘make love to’ was still in use in the1940s and 50s. In the 1935 film Top Hat, Ginger Rogers says: “He made love to me.” That meant the Fred Astaire character was simply engaging in a little purely verbal hanky-panky.
In a 1940s Jack Benny Show, comedian Phil Harris said: “Nobody makes love better than me.” But he was talking about courting and kissing.
The meaning of this expression started to change when it was used by America’s rock ‘n’ roll generation in the late 1950s and early 60s — the years of the sexual revolution.
And what really put an end to the courting and kissing sense of the term was the popular anti-war slogan ‘Make love, not war’. This was taken up and popularised by radical activists Penelope and Franklin Rosemount, who distributed thousands of ‘Make Love, Not War’ badges for a Mother’s Day peace march in 1965.
From then on the old meaning of kissing and cuddling soon disappeared and ‘to make love’ became a synonym for having sex.
When the meaning of a word or phrase evolves slowly, as in this case, linguists call it semantic change or drift. So by its very nature you can never put an exact date on a semantic change.
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