Colourful English Expressions Using ‘Over’

Over the moon 2

Moving on from my recent blogs in which I focussed on animal references in colloquial English speech, I wanted to draw your attention to other types of words that feature commonly in English expressions: prepositions. Having studied the French and Spanish languages at university (and the Irish language during my years at secondary school), I can safely say that prepositions are lexical elements that shape the meaning of expressions in a wide variety of languages, not merely English. In the English language, prepositions denoting physical location or direction are particularly prevalent in colloquial expressions, however. Short phrases beginning with words such as above, below, over, and under are used very frequently. It is not the case that most such expressions refer to location or physical movement in any sort of literal sense, of course. Far from it. As we saw with the case of animal references, English is a language that is rich in metaphorical allusions. Informal language usage that derives meaning from prepositional phrases tends to work in exactly the same way.

In this first blog on the topic of prepositional usage in English expressions, I’m going to zone in on the specific use of the word ‘over.’ The number of different expressions that come from the use of this seemingly simple, uncomplicated word is quite amazing. Let’s begin by looking at an expression using ‘over’ that relates to the emotion of joy. If you heard the phrase over the moon, used by an English speaker, would you know what it meant? The moon has long been the subject of romantic references in English language popular culture. Perhaps this has been particularly the case since the 1950s, when the song Fly Me To The Moon was written by Bart Howard, later to be made doubly famous by Frank Sinatra in the 1960s. It is to be expected, thus, that any expression relating to the moon should bear some relation to the concept of happiness. An individual who describes themselves as being over the moon is in fact telling you that they are thrilled about something that has just happened to them.

On the other hand, if an individual describes another person’s behaviour as being over the top, this generally implies that that person is not conducting themselves in an appropriate or polite way. The word top here refers to the idea of a limit or boundary which should not be crossed. A common collocation for the expression over the top is the word ‘reaction’ (placed directly after it). Therefore, if somebody displays an over the top reaction, this implies that they are reacting in an excessively negative way to something that has just occurred or been said, leading to the disapproval of others.

Here is an expression using ‘over’ that is, in fact, an interesting alternative way of saying ‘in addition to.’ The phrase I’m referring to is over and above. This one is actually useful for both informal speech and formal speech or writing. It is an evocative expression when used in the context of introducing a new point in an argument being presented. For example, if you were making a speech in a debate, you could use the phrase in the following form: “Over and above all of the issues previously discussed, I would like to add…etc.”

Over the hill

One of my personal favourite colloquial expressions that uses the word ‘over’ is the one that refers to a person’s age. The one I’m referring to is over the hill. Sometimes frowned upon (i.e. not viewed positively) because of its perceived ageist connotations, a person who is over the hill is someone who is no longer in the prime period of their life (their most active, productive years, in other words) because of the toll that time and old age has taken on them. Hence, the individual in question is, figuratively speaking, not ascending the hill but going down the other side… Whether, as a learner of English, the meaning behind the expression appeals to you or not, you surely cannot fail to appreciate the evocative nature of the metaphor of the hill itself, used in this case to represent the journey we all go through in life.

In my next blog, I will focus on expressions that relate to the use of the preposition ‘under.’ There are just as many colourful examples of phrases to be found in English using this word as there are with ‘over.’ I hope you’ve learnt something from the examples I’ve given in this current blog. And remember, the best way to ensure that you don’t forget the phrases that you’ve learnt is by putting them into practice in spoken form, wherever you feel there is a suitable context for them. Just be a little careful not to offend an elderly person if you choose to use the last one that I mentioned!


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