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The meaning and origin of the expression: Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue'?

'Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue' is the collection of items that is considered lucky for a bride to take to her wedding.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue'?

Before there was a rhyme there was a superstition - that a bride should wear something borrowed at her wedding. This belief dates from at least the mid 19th century and was first recorded by the English folklorist William Henderson in Notes on the Folk-lore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders, 1866:

The bride herself should wear something borrowed - for what reason I am not informed.

Henderson recorded numerous other English superstitions relating to marriage, including:

- Swine must not cross the path of a wedding party.
- On no account should green be worn as fairies would resent the insult.
- The horseman who arrives first may kiss the bride.
- Kale should not be eaten at the wedding dinner.
- A slice of cake should be passed through the wedding rings.
and so on...

The original 'something borrowed' requirement was added to several times to form variants of the rhyme, finally arriving at the full version:

Something old, something new,
Something borrowed, something blue,
And a silver sixpence in her shoe.

The superstition originated in England, although early printed records of it are found in both English and American sources.

The meaning and origin of the phrase 'Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue'.The earliest citation that uses almost the current form is from the London publication St James’ Magazine, April to September 1871, in a story entitled “Marriage Superstitions, and the Miseries of a Bride Elect”:

On the wedding day I must 'wear something new, something borrowed, something blue'.

The rhyme must have travelled quickly to the USA as there is a reference to the 'something borrowed' belief in the Missouri newspaper The Bolivar Press, October 1871, only a few years after Henderson first recorded it in England:

It is an old superstition that at her bridal a lady should always wear some article borrowed from a friend for the occasion. This is sure to bring good luck... Might be a good idea for the groom to wear something borrowed too.

'Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue' was certainly in use in both England and the USA by the late Victorian period. The first example that I know of of the version we currently use is American, in an edition of the Pennsylvania newspaper the Lancaster Intelligencer, August 1873:

In dressing the bride, she must put on
"Something old and something new,
Something borrowed and something blue"

Various sources state the rhyme to have originated in the northern English county of Lancashire. This is possible as Henderson was recording folklore of that region. However, it is also possible that the US Lancaster and the UK Lancaster have been muddled up.

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blueThe 'silver sixpence in her shoe' is a late Victorian addition. A sixpence was a silver coin which was in use in the UK between the 17th and 20th centuries. Sixpences were also minted and used in Maryland, USA from the same date, so that variation could have been made on either side of the Atlantic.

The tradition lives on. Any bride opting for a 'big fat wedding' with chimney sweeps, harpists and page boys in kilts would also be sure to follow the rhyme's stipulations. No swine, horsemen or kale goes without saying.

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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