Trip the light fantastic (phrase)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For other uses of the phrase, see Trip the light fantastic (disambiguation).

To "trip the light fantastic" is to dance nimbly or lightly, or to move in a pattern to musical accompaniment.[1] It is often used in a humorous vein.[2][3] As early as 1908 it was viewed as a cliché or hackneyed phrase.[4] Grammatically, it is an example of a constructionally idiosyncratic idiom,[5] in that it is impossible to construct a meaningful literal-scene from the formal structure.[6] As such it should be viewed as a catena.


This phrase evolved through a series of usages and references. The phrase is typically attributed to Milton's 1645 poem L'Allegro,[2][7][8] which includes the lines

Com, and trip it as ye go,
On the light fantastick toe.

The imagery of tripping on toes also appears in Shakespeare's The Tempest: "Before you can say come, and goe, / And breathe twice; and cry, so, so: / Each one tripping on his Toe, / Will be here with mop, and mowe."

This expression became popular from the song "Sidewalks of New York" (melody and text by Charles B. Lawlor and James W. Blake) in 1894.[8] Part of the chorus: "Boys and girls together, me and Mamie O'Rourke / Tripped the light fantastic / On the sidewalks of New York."

In 1967, Procol Harum released its hit song, "A Whiter Shade of Pale", with lyrics by Keith Reid, that included a play on the phrase, "skip the light fandango" casting Milton's light and nimble dancing in a modernist perspective:[8]

More recent usage includes a line from Quentin Tarantino's movie Inglourious Basterds, and as a song title in electronica artist BT's debut album, Ima.[9]


  1. ^ Lasseter, Jim. "trip the light fantastic". Random House, Inc. Retrieved March 20, 2001. 
  2. ^ a b Kirkpatrick, Betty and Kirkpatrick, Elizabeth McLaren (1999) "light fantastic" Clichés: Over 1500 Phrases Explored and Explained Macmillan, New York, page 115, ISBN 978-0-312-19844-2
  3. ^ Jarvie, Gordon (2009) "Trip" Bloomsbury Dictionary of Idioms A & C Black, London, page 652, ISBN 978-1-4081-2492-5
  4. ^ Armstrong, Robert A.(January 1908) "Correct English" The West Virginia School Journal 36(10): pp. 18–19, page 19
  5. ^ Chafe, Wallace L. (May 1968) "Idiomaticity as an Anomaly in the Chomskyan Paradigm" Foundations of Language 4(2): pp. 109–127, page 111
  6. ^ Langlotz, Andreas (2006) Idiomatic Creativity: A Cognitive-Linguistic Model of Idiom-Representation and Idiom-Variation in English John Benjamins Publishing Company, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, page 132, ISBN 978-90-272-2370-8
  7. ^ Martin, Gary. "Trip the light fantastic". 
  8. ^ a b c Smith, Chrysti M. (2006) "Trip the Light Fantastic" Verbivore's Feast: Second Course: More Word & Phrase Origins Farcountry Press, Helena, Montana, page 320, ISBN 978-1-56037-404-6
  9. ^