Many happy returns

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Eraser2, Nov 27, 2006.

  1. Eraser2 New Member

    Polish, POLAND
    What does it mean "many happy returns"?
    I know that these are some kind of wishes, but why returns? Returns of what?
  2. Kelly B

    Kelly B Senior Member

    USA English
    Many happy returns... of the day.
    May you have many of these occasions (birthdays, anniversaries), implying a long life.
  3. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Today is your birthday.
    One return of today is one more birthday.
    Two returns of today is two more birthdays.
    Many returns of today is many more birthdays.
    Many happy returns of today is many more birthdays when you are happy.

    It seems like a cliché, but it has a very simple meaning.

    I expect that most people who say this have no idea what it means and have never thought about it.
  4. Eraser2 New Member

    Polish, POLAND
    Thank you Kelly B and panjandrum!
  5. mimi2 Senior Member

    vietnam vietnamese
    "If you feel in the mood of celebrating, will you let me take you to dinner and movies, as a sort of birthday treat! And in the meantime, many happy returns!"
    1.I would like to know if using "in the mood of celebrating' is correct?
    2. What does it mean "many happy returns"?
    Thank you very much.
  6. Trisia

    Trisia mod de viață

    1. I'd choose between:
    If you're in the mood for celebrating,
    If you're in a celebrating mood
    If you feel like celebrating
    2. The expression (as I know it) is "many happy returns of the day" (I wish you many more anniversaries to come)
  7. dn88 Senior Member

    2. Yes, but it also works without "of the day". :D
  8. Trisia

    Trisia mod de viață

    True, I should have mentioned that. :eek:
    Mimi, that's the original expression, but dn88 is right :)
  9. Sane Member

    USA, English
    What the word "returns" means in "I wish you many happy returns of the day"?
  10. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    It is looking at a year as a cycle rather than a line. Each time the year swings around again to that person's birthday/anniversary you are wishing that the person will have another happy birthday/anniversary again.
  11. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    Good question. It doesn't seem to have any of its common meanings here. But I have always presumed, after puzzling over this, that it must mean "may this day return again many times". So it's not the meaning of the word that's unique to this expression, but the idiom it's in. It always feels strange, orphaned, to me.
  12. Copyright

    Copyright Senior Member

    American English
    From The Phrase Finder for many happy returns (of the day is a variation, I believe).

    Have many more happy days, especially birthdays.

    Since the 18th century this has been used as a salutation to offer the hope that a happy day being marked would recur many more times. It is now primarily used on birthdays; prior to the mid 19th century it was used more generally, at any celebratory or festive event.

    The first record I can find of it in print is in a letter written by Lady Newdigate in 1789 (published in Newdigate-Newdegate Cheverels in 1898): "Many happy returns of ye day to us my Dr Love."
  13. arueng Senior Member

    Many happy returns of the day!


    I think the above is similar to "Happy Birthday," but what does it really mean? I suppose "the day" refers to "the birthday," but how can we conclude that the birthday star will be happy on that day? Thanks.
  14. Myridon

    Myridon Senior Member

    English - US
    "Returns" refers to the birthday (the date) returning in future years. In other words: May you have many more happy birthdays.
  15. arueng Senior Member

    Thanks, Myridon, for the clear explanation.

    But the premise is that the birthday star must be happy on this birthday, right?
  16. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    A "return of the day" is another birthday.
    May you have many more birthdays, and may each of them be happy.

    That wonderful, but frequently ignored, resource - the WordReference "Dictionary and thread title search" would have told you more.
    I added today's question to the previous thread(s) on this topic.

    Last edited: May 24, 2011
  17. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    Generally, we don't say this instead of "Happy birthday". First we say "Happy birthday", which is a wish that the day be happy. Then we say, "and many happy returns of the day", which has the meaning explained above.

    When you hear "Many happy returns of the day!" by itself, that usually means that the person saying it assumes that the wish will be understood even if it is not said.
  18. arueng Senior Member

    Thanks, Pan, for the reply and help.

    Thanks, Cagey, for the explanation.

    Got it!
  19. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I had heard this expression for many years, and even perhaps used it, before I thought of wondering what it meant. Indeed, I suspect that the first time I thought seriously about it was in 2006 when the question arose here.

    I said "... and perhaps even used it".
    On reflection, though I have often read this on birthday cards, I don't believe I have ever said it to anyone.
    Is this just another example of me being odd - or do others use this expression naturally and as a matter of routine?
  20. HSS

    HSS Senior Member

    Sendai, Japan
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    I've never seen or heard it written or said, respectively, for someone having an occasion other than his birthday. Could this expression be used on some other occasion without being felt unnatural or weird?

    'Merry Christmas, and many happy returns!'
    --- Nehhh, this sounds not right, doesn't it?
  21. Myridon

    Myridon Senior Member

    English - US
    No, it is only used for personal anniversaries (birthdays and wedding anniversaries). Christmas will return whether you are alive or not so this doesn't wish you a long life (or a long marriage).

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