Ah, the moon! Just look at it up there, glowing in the sky, casting its beautiful silvery light all around. It’s always inspired us. I think that’s because it’s a little bit more mysterious than the sun. During the day people probably looked up and thought: Well, I don’t really know what that thing up there is, but it clearly provides light and heat, so it’s ok.
But the moon? To our ancestors it probably didn’t seem to do much. It gave light which looks lovely, but it’s not really enough to do much by. Over time, people began to notice that it’s monthly cycle coincided with another cycle, and so the notion that women were soft, mysterious creatures of the moon, and men tough, fiery creatures of the sun, came about. It seems that the phases of the moon really intrigued us, because many other words were inspired by them. Lunacy/lunatic/loony/loon for example. Coming from the Latin lunaticus (moonstruck), the word came about because it was believed that people could suffer from periodic insanity which waxed and waned as the moon did.
There’s also moonshine, the American term for illegally-made alcohol, presumably so named because it was made secretly, by moonlight. To moon can also of course be a verb, though I’ve never quite understood why one would want to moon somebody else. This use of the word only appeared about 50 years ago, and presumably comes from the resemblance of pale exposed buttocks to the moon.
And of course, Monday, literally meaning Moon-day. Though naming that day after the moon isn’t much of a compliment.
By looking at the way our language has been influenced by the moon, it’s hard to pin down what it says about how we think about the moon. It seems to symbolise the ever-changing nature of life, the universe, people. Always changing, always in motion, but always returning to the start. But it’s also romantic, mysterious, captivating. Think of how many songs and films have made use of the sense of beauty and romance of moonlight. Thinking about the way some men thought (think) about women in the past (in the present), it’s no wonder that the moon, mysterious and ever-changing, was associated with the feminine sex.
So the next time you find yourself outside on a gentle, moonlit night, put yourself in the shoes of your ancestors, looking up and wondering what, or who, was shining down on them.