Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Happy-Go-Lucky

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 18, 2013

If you’ve ever heard someone say they’re a happy-go-lucky type, what they’re saying is that they are happy most of the time and rarely worry. It’s not that they don’t have worries of their own or that they don’t experience anger or sadness or other emotions. It’s just that happy-go-lucky types roll with the punches and made do as best they can in a cheerful sort of way.

On October 13, 2010 the Sporting News website carried a story about the NBA’s famous Boston Celtics who saw the team one quarter away from an NBA championship. With quotes from their coach, Doc Rivers, sports fans had an inside glimpse into the season. The online story was entitled, “Chemistry Of Happy-Go-Lucky Celtics Bound To Be Tested Beyond Limited Minutes.”

The Oscars of 1966 saw some incredible actors walking away with golden statues in hand. The Eugene Register-Guard of April 19, 1966 listed out who won, what category they won and why they won. Sandwiched in-between all the listings was this one:

The award for best performance by an actor in a supporting role went to Martin Balsam in “A Thousand Clowns.” He played the older brother of happy-go-lucky Jason Robards.

On December 1, 1934 the Lewiston Evening Journal on their page entitled, “Social World.” While there were a great many announcements about parties and clubs and mixers and such, this one talked about the goings-on of the Happy Go Lucky club.

Miss Eudora Ashton was hostess to the Happy Go Lucky club Friday evening at her home, South Goff Street, Auburn. Cards were in play and high score was won by Stanton Drake and low by Mrs. Philip Tetu. The next meeting of the club will be with Mr. and Mrs. Roland Juneau, 19 Fourth Street, Auburn, Friday.

For those of you who read the Kate Douglas Wiggin (28 September 1856 – 24 August 1923) book “Rebecca Of Sunnybrooke Farm” this passage about Rebecca’s relations will ring familiar with you. But for those who either don’t remember the passage or who haven’t read the book published in 1903, the American educator and author provided a snapshot of what happy-go-lucky might look like to others.

It was in this happy-go-lucky household that Rebecca had grown up. It was just an ordinary family; two or three of the children were handsome and the rest plain, three of them rather clever, two industrious, and two commonplace and dull. Rebecca had her father’s facility and had been his aptest pupil. She “carried” the alto by ear, danced without being taught, played the melodeon without knowing the notes. Her love of books she inherited chiefly from her mother, who found it hard to sweep or cook or sew when there was a novel in the house.

In the July 4, 1868 edition of the Edinburgh Evening Courant, a Letter To The Editor discussed the Principalship of Edinburgh University and the election of Sir James Y. Simpson to the office. The author asked a great many questions and provided detailed facts to support those questions, including this:

His reputation in his own profession nobody doubts or denies; but his greatest achievement — the invention of chloroform — was more of the nature of a happy-go-lucky experiment than the inevitable result of real scientific thought. The principle of a universal anaesthetic had been previously discovered by the discoverer of ether, and all that was done by Professor Simpson was the devising of a more generally applicable and a more convenient embodiment of that principle.

In southeast Australia, in the eastern Victorian region of Gippsland, there’s a small town named Walhalla which, at its peak, boasted 2,500 residents although these days, it has fewer than twenty. It popped up during the gold rush of the 1850s as did other communities including the town of Happy-Go-Lucky. In time, the town was renamed Pearson, but when it was Happy-Go-Lucky, it had a population of 300 as well as a post office to call its own. Unfortunately, it became a ghost town and today, only ruins remain of what was formerly a Happy-Go-Lucky place.

When Herman Melville wrote and published “Moby Dick” in 1851, and used the expression in Chapter XXVII entitled, “Knights And Squires” where he described the second mate thusly:

Stubb was the second mate. He was a native of Cape Cod; and hence, according to local usage, was called a Cape-Cod-man. A happy-go-lucky; neither craven nor valiant; taking perils as they came with an indifferent air; and while engaged in the most imminent crisis of the chase, toiling away, calm and collected as a journeyman joiner engaged for the year. Good-humored, easy, and careless, he presided over his whale-boat as if the most deadly encounter were but a dinner, and his crew all invited guests. He was as particular about the comfortable arrangement of his part of the boat, as an old stage-driver is about the snugness of his box.

In 1699, the account entitled “A True and Just Relation of Major General Sir Thomas Morgan’s Progress in France and Flanders with the Six English in the Years 1657 and 1658 at the Taking of Dunkirk and Other Important Places” was written by Sir Thomas Morgan and included this passage:

The Redcoats cried, “Shall we fall in order, or go happy-go-lucky?”

At this point, Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of this idiom.  That being said, since the Redcoats allegedly used the expression in 1657 and 1658, it’s safe to say that it was part of every day language.  As such, it most likely dates back to the beginning of the 17th century.  As always, Idiomation encourages readers to find earlier published instances of any phrase on the blog.

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