91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit 104.1 Grand Rapids 91.3 Port Huron 89.7 Lansing 91.1 Flint
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

TWTS: Something happened and "heels over head" went "head over heels"

If you're head over heels about someone, it's clear that you've stumbled into a metaphorical somersault of love.

Wouldn't "heels over head" make more sense though?

Generally speaking, our heads are over our heels most of the time, even when we're not in a state of unconstrained infatuation.

There actually was a time when "heels over head" was the norm. It first appears around 1400 and was turned around into "head over heels" sometime around the 1700s.

It's not entirely clear why this change occurred. In his blog World Wide Words, Michael Quinion says it may have been due to a series of mistakes by authors "who didn't stop to think about the conventional phrase they were writing."

The two versions of the expression seem to have co-existed for a little while. Quinion cites Davy Crockett's use of "head over heels" in 1834 but points out that L. Frank Baum consistently used "heels over head" in his Oz series as late as the early 20th century. 

Although "head over heels" is the version we tend to use today, we quite like the sound of "heels over head." There's just something about it that sounds more poetic and evocative. Which version of the expression do you prefer?

Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.
Rebecca Kruth is the host of All Things Considered at Michigan Public. She also co-hosts Michigan Public's weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.
Related Content