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Where did that phrase come from - Once in a blue moon
Stan St. Clair

Well, it has been a year this month since my first column appeared in the Southern Standard and I am humbled and grateful for the privilege of being counted worthy to be a weekly part of the lives of its staff and readers, and that of the Smithville Review. It is only “once in a blue moon” that something as fulfilling as writing this column comes along for me.   

The moon only appears to be blue on certain occasions, like following a volcanic eruption, for example. Small dust particles in the atmosphere after an eruption of a volcano usually diffract blue light and make the moon appear red at sunset; larger ones diffract red light, giving the moon a blue glow — hence, a true blue moon.

It was once thought that blue moons never occurred. This belief dates back to mediaeval England. The Bishop of St. Asaph, St. David’s, Bath, Wells and Chichester, William Barlow, in his Treatyse of the Buryall of the Masse, published in 1528, wrote the following sarcastic note: “Yf they saye the mone is belewe, We must beleve that it is true.”

Then in 1529, John Frith’s essay, titled, “A pistle to the christen reader,” 1529, included this: “They wold make men beleue ... that ye mone is made of grene chese.”

But the idiom “once in a blue moon” didn’t come into play until centuries later. This near example appears in Pierce Egan’s “Real Life in London,” in 1821: “How’s Harry and Ben? - haven’t seen you this blue moon.”

The fact that since 1819 The Maine Farmer’s Almanac has listed dates for future blue moons seems rather comical. The writers of this almanac seem to have their own definition of what “blue moons” are. 

This appears to be based only on rarity, since it is the 13th full moon in a year, when this occurs. Some, therefore, have dubbed the second full moon in a calendar month as a “blue moon,” though this doesn’t mean that it will appear blue.


If you would like to know the origin of a favorite expression, text the author at 931-212-3303 or email him at stan@stclair.net.