In a movie "Moana", there's this conversation between Moana and her gramma Tala:

Moana: It's time to put my stone on the mountain.

Tala: Okay! Well, then head on back! Put that stone up there.

Here, what does "head on back" mean?

I guess "head" here means "go". Then, can you say "go on back" instead of "head on back" here?


For more context, here's a clip starting with the conversation above.

1 Answer 1


Your assumptions are correct - head can be treated as a verb, meaning to move in a specified direction. For example.

  • After we got to the beach, we headed south.

  • After work, we all headed to the pub.

  • It's getting late, I think I'll head home.

... and to head on in this context simply means to continue on.

From that, we get head on back. Although it seems counterintuitive (and it is), head on back has become an idiomatic expression meaning to turn around and go back the way you came, or to some previous waypoint on your route.

  • After the hike, I headed back home.

  • I headed back down the river as the sun began to set.

  • You should head back home before the sun sets.

Go on back could also be used in your example:

Well, then go on back! Put that stone up there.

It seems equally counterintuitive, but is also commonly used in this context.

  • Thanks. But shouldn't it be "come on back" instead of "go on back" in the original context? Because Moana is approaching to Tala, the speaker.
    – JK2
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 4:36
  • 1
    come and go are very much dependent on relative positions of the speakers. I'm presuming to a certain degree here, but it sounds like Moana and Tala have both progressed past the mountain, engaged in conversation, and Tala is instructing her to go on back. If Tala for some reason, was still standing on the mountain, shouting down to Moana, she would say come on back.
    – mike
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 4:39
  • For more context, I've edited the question to add a clip showing the conversation in question. Please take a look at it and let me know if you think which is better, "go on back" or "come on back".
    – JK2
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 4:52
  • The clip shows that Tala and Moana are together on a beach, looking back toward the mountain. So as @mike said, "go on back" would be the appropriate alternative to "head on back." Tala would have said "come on back" if Moana were on the beach and Tala were herself on the mountain (or Tala were nearer to the mountain than Moana was)--in that case, Tala would be telling Moana to move nearer to ("to come" toward) Moana's position.
    – user48167
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 9:34
  • @Shosht In the context of the clip, by "then head on back", Tala tells Moana first to go up the mountain to put the stone up there and then to come back to the beach. Once Moana puts the stone on the mountain, she'll return to Tala, the speaker, which means that Tala has to say "come back" instead of "go back". No?
    – JK2
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 15:58

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