Trip the Light Fantastic

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Meaning of Idiom 'Trip the Light Fantastic'

To trip the light fantastic means to dance.


If you use this idiom, chances are, nobody will know what you are talking about. It is only referenced in printed works and not used as a common verbal expression, except, perhaps, in a humorous way.


"Maybe after dinner we could trip the light fantastic. Or, if you'd rather, we could just dance."


This quite opaque idiom may seem completely senseless, but some meaning can be gleaned from the word trip to mean a light step or form of tripping. The expression originated from John Milton's L'Allegro (1632):

"Come and trip it as ye go, On the light fantastic toe."

It was later used in the popular song by James W Blake, The Sidewalks of New York, from 1894:

"Boys and girls together, me and Mamie O'Rourke
We tripped the light fantastic on the sidewalks of New York" 1,2

The song Whiter Shade of Pale (1967) by Procul Harum uses a clever re-rendering of the idiom:

"We skipped the light fandango
Turned cartwheels 'cross the floor"

Here, fandango refers to an energetic Spanish couples dance and skip is a stand-in for the word trip, meaning to step lightly from one foot to another with a hop or a bounce.

1. Ayto, John. Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms. Oxford: Oxford U, 2010.
2. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

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