Have you ever thought about the oddness of the words “once upon a time?”
Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” for those who haven’t read it, is about this man named Prospero whose brother stranded him on an island so that he could take his place as the Duke of Milan. Years later, Prospero uses his magic powers (yep, he has magic) and a spirit named Ariel, to strand his brother, a King, the King’s son, and a few others on the island through a crazy storm (i.e. the tempest) in order to seek revenge. In Shakespeare’s play, there’s romance, “monsters,” and magic. Personally, I would recommend reading it, or at least seeing the play.
The version of the play I have has footnotes that explain some of the confusing or odd words that Shakespeare is known to use, and one of the explanations caught my eye. Stephano, one of the characters stranded on island by Prospero, says, “I was the man I’ the moon when time was…” In which the handy footnote translated the last words as, “when time was” as “once upon a time.” Roughly, I was the man in the moon once upon a time, and I think it sounds mysterious, otherworldly, and enchanting. I believe it’s so easy for us, as writers or readers, to overlook phrases that we now consider familiar. Many believe “once upon a time” derived from fairytales and folklore, but does anyone stop to consider how long ago that was? Or when it was first used? The phrase is now used as a T.V. show title.
This got me thinking about other idioms that we use. An idiom is a group of words that have a different meaning than what those words would normally mean. They aren’t meant to be taken literally. For example, A chip on your shoulder is an idiom that means you are holding a grudge. Of course, these change with culture and generations. Though, “Once upon a time” hasn’t gone out of style yet.
What are other phrases or details that you’ve read in a book or heard around?
*Image used from google images