How does "head over heels" mean upside down? I can't find its etymology in https://www.etymonline.com/word/head%20over%20heels.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/heels%20over%20head says heels over head is archaic, but I think it represents the meaning much better.

  • If you search for 'head over heels meaning' on Google, you will find plenty of pages saying that it was originally 'heels over head', and that the reversed expression came in some time before 1710, but I don't think anyone knows exactly why. Commented Apr 28 at 10:08
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    Back in the 15th century it was indeed heel over head. The idea was not of a static image but of tumbling motion: head over heels over head over heels.
    – TimR
    Commented Apr 28 at 10:12
  • It does mean "upside down" or "tumbling". It's an idiom, so by definition you can't understand it by breaking it down into the separate words. So there is no possible answer to the question "How does it mean ...", it just does. (consider also the American phrase "could care less" (which means the same as "could not care less"))
    – James K
    Commented Apr 28 at 10:52
  • I think it's funny that people have started saying 'head over heels in love' when the original expression was 'over head and ears' (i.e. deeply submerged). Commented Apr 28 at 13:14

2 Answers 2


It's an idiom. Lots of idioms don't make sense if you try to analyze the literal meanings of the words. Yes, "head over heels" makes no sense. Most people normally sit or stand with their head over their heals.

But one could say similar things about many idioms. Consider, "I could care less", which means that I don't care. But if you could care less than you do, doesn't that mean that you DO care? It would be more logical to say, "I couldn't care less."

Or less blatantly, "Something came up." As opposed to what? Something came down? I heard a joke once where a foreigner trying to learn English is invited by some friends to go out to a bar after work. He says, "Sorry, I can't go, something came down." His friends laugh and say, "No no, the expression is 'something came up'." Puzzled, he replies, "Something came down. Wife's foot."

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    Indeed, we British do say "I couldn't care less" and find the other version odd. Commented Apr 28 at 13:07

Because the expression became reversed

The original expression washeels over head” and in that form it dates from the 1300s. In the early 1700s people started reversing it and the ‘wrong’ version took over. It happens - many idioms have literal meanings that make no sense.

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