Many Moons Ago – Meaning & Origin

If you’ve just encountered the phrase “many moons ago,” you might be wondering what exactly it means.

Is this a standard unit of measurement? Exactly how many moons are many? Where does this phrase come from?

Don’t panic. We have the answers to all your questions below.

Many Moons Ago – Meaning

“Many moons ago” is an idiom that people use to describe something that happened a long time ago. It originates from the practice of tracking time passing by monitoring the phases that the moon moves through, as viewed from earth. We still use lunar calendars to determine some religious holidays.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • “Many moons ago” is an idiom you can use to describe something happening a long time ago.
  • It comes from the practice of tracking time through the phases of the moon.
  • This phrase isn’t offensive, but it’s old-fashioned and slightly whimsical.

There’s no specific length of time that “many moons ago” represents. Even though a “moon” technically stands for about a month, people would usually understand this phrase to mean years.

Here’s an example of how it works in a sentence:

  • Person 1: I thought you were the best sharpshooter in the land.
  • Person 2: But that was many moons ago now, before the incident.

Many Moons Ago – Origin

The phrase “many moons ago” comes from the tradition of tracking time through the phases of the moon.  

A lunar calendar is based on these phases as they’re seen from Earth. It takes the moon approximately 29.53 days to complete this process and this is where we derive the unit of time that’s a month. Thus, the words “moon” and “month” have the same lexical root.

We currently operate on the Gregorian calendar, which is a solar calendar system (meaning it’s based on the movements of the sun) but evolved out of the lunar calendar system. 

People used this method of time-telling for many years (or moons). We’ve discovered a lunisolar calendar in Scotland that dates to c. 8000 BC! Furthermore, scholars have argued that evidence of lunar calendars can be seen even earlier, like in the markings on a 27,000-year-old bone baton. 

People often associate this phrase with Native Americans. While they definitely did measure time through a lunar system, it’s not something that’s exclusive to their culture – as evidenced by the fact that the oldest lunar calendar was discovered in Scotland.

Lionel Wafer used the phrase “‘twas a great many moons ago” in his 1695 manuscript A New Voyage and Description of the Isthmus of America, which described his experience of living with the Cuna people.

He described how they didn’t distinguish between days and hours but tracked the passing of time in the number of moons they encountered.

Many Moons Ago – Synonyms

If you’re looking for another way to say “many moons ago,” try using one of the below phrases:

  • A long time ago
  • Many years ago
  • Ages ago
  • Way back when
  • In the past 
  • Many moons passed

Is “Many Moons Ago” Offensive?

The phrase “many moons ago” isn’t offensive because it’s simply an old-fashioned way to express that many years have passed since something happened. 

Although some people associate the phrase with Native Americans, many cultures tracked time through the phases of the moon.

In fact, while the Gregorian calendar is now standard, we still use lunar calendars to determine the dates of multiple religious holidays, like Easter, Ramadan, and Diwali.