Monday 12 December 2011


The other day somebody asked me where the phrase oops-a-daisy comes from. Of course, I didn't know, but I never feel that Ignorance should stand in the way of Opinion, so I muttered something about lackadaisical and tried to look wise. By extraordinary coincidence, it turns out that I might have been right. Oops-a-daisy has a strange and meandering history that goes like this.

First, oops-a-daisy predates oops and whoops. Oops only appeared in 1925 and whoops is even younger having stumbled into the language in the 1930s. They're both variants of the original upsidaisy which was something you said to a child as you lifted it up back in the nineteenth century.

Upsidaisy is a variant of up-a-daisy which dates back to 1711, also addressed to a child to make him rise. So where does the daisy come from? Well, the OED says compare lackadaisy. You see, words influence each other. When the word bunkum already exists, it encourages people to change hocus pocus to hokum. In the same way, lackadaisy (and lackadaisical) appear to have influenced the formation of up-a-daisy from up.

Lackadaisy is formed from lackaday, which is a shortening of alack the day! which means something along the line of curse the day on which something happened, which comes from lack meaning failure, fault, reproach or shame.

And thus did a tour through the dictionary pretty much confirm my nebulous and face-saving guesswork. Who needs scholarship when you have bluff?

P.S. For anybody who particular wants to hear my brief appearance on Friday morning's Today Programme, the relevant segment can be found here.



  1. So does that mean that up-a daisy means 'Let's get up because it's day' or a kind of exhortation to get up and get on with it, scaled down to child size?

  2. My nan used to say that the daisy was: 'the days eye opens with the morning & closes with the night' so in reference to Maddie...I think you are right 'let's get up because its the day'

  3. Daisy definitely derives from 'day's eye', but that was so long ago that most people wouldn't have realised by the time lackadaisy and up-a-daisy were being formed. It's more to do with the way that words influence each other. People invent words to fit a pattern that already exists, if you see what I mean, like bunkum-hokum.

  4. Fascinating... By happenchance, oopsadaisy was part of a discussion in one of my A-level English Language classes this very week. A discussion regarding taboo terms and expletives turned somehow to address what the students perceived to be more dated expressions. I was fresh from a discussion the previous night whereby someone had noted my own use of oopsadaisy. Only one other person in this class of 20 admitted to using this mildest form of pseudo-curse. We speculated as to why two of us, a generation apart, might reach for this expression when, for instance, dropping
    something. Although from the same secondary school, there is little evidence to suggest oopsadaisy is prevalent in local dialect; if anything, my own hunch is, there is more than a touch of class-marked lexis about the expression, at least when used by an adult. A friend had previously associated the expression with Hugh Grant (Notting Hill?). My own hunch - and it is no more than that at present - is that in my own use I am reflecting the language of childhood used around me when mildly irritating events may have occurred: surely oopsadaisy is one of those particular expressions prone to babytalk? It just happens to be one that outlasts childhood itself.

  5. Its unlikely to be babytalk as the child themselves would never use the words. Its the adults around them that say Upsadaisy as they lift the child. It almost serves as a warning to the child that they will be picked up in some circumstances. Its a phrase my family used especially the grandparents. A very working class family from London certainly not class based at that time.