head over heels
To be head over heels is to be confused or in disarray because of something, often love. It’s a curious phrase as the head is normally over the heels. One would think that it should be heels over head.
And indeed the expression was originally the reverse. Heels over head dates to the 14th century. From the poem Patience, written sometime in the 14th century:
He [Jonah] glydez in by þe giles, þurȝ glaymande glette...Ay hele ouer hed hourlande aboute.
(He [Jonah] passed in by the gills, through sticky slime...All heels over head tumbling about.)
In the late-18th century, people began reversing the phrase. Why, we don’t know. They just began saying head over heels and eventually this supplanted heels over head. From The Contemplative Man, written in 1771:
He gave such a violent involuntary kick in the Face, as drove him Head over Heels.
(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)
Copyright 1997-2015, by David Wilton