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The meaning and origin of the expression: Memory lane

Memory lane

What's the meaning of the phrase 'Memory lane'?

An imaginary idyllic place where people take sentimental journeys through their memories of past experiences.

The expression is often used in its extended forms - 'a trip down memory lane' or 'walk down memory lane'.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Memory lane'?

Memory lane






Many of the English phrases that refer to places refer to real places - 'shipshape and Bristol fashion', 'Houston we have a problem' etc.

Despite the above roadsign, 'a trip down memory lane' is one of the smaller group, like 'Queer Street' and 'the back of beyond', in which the place is imaginary.

The name for a place where you might go to relive you memories was originally 'memory's lane'.

The expression is American in origin and the earliest instance that I have found is the title of a piece of music which was advertised for sale in the Wisconsin newspaper The Milwaukee Daily News, October 1876:

Wandering down sweet memory’s lane

Memory's Lane morphed into Memory Lane a few years later. The earliest use of that that I can find in print is in the Kansas newspaper The Evening Star, January 1902, in a poem by Paul Terhune entitled After Twenty Years:

Back once more through Memory Lane
We sauntered, hand in hand, again,
Two boys, heart-free from toil and care,
Joyous, contented, unaware
Of life’s true meaning or its goal,
Or of the passing of the soul
Unto a higher sphere than this;
Thus did our lives glide on in bliss.
Air castles built we, day by day,
To see them fall and fade away.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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