(Insert brief dramatic pause here during which we allow for the multitude of “Where on earth have you been”s. Also during which I (as the one in charge of the keyboard) pretend that I haven’t been gone for over a month.)
The other day, a colleague celebrated her birthday, and as usual, I brought in a card which everyone signs and then we all (for the most part) enjoyed a ridiculously sweet chocolate mousse cake which gave me a pounding headache from the combination of sugar and lactose.
What intrigued me were the comments written by people in the card, and one phrase in particular gave me pause for thought, namely ‘Many happy returns’.
Many happy returns? What happened to a good hearty ‘Happy Birthday’? ‘Many Happy Returns’ is an odd turn of phrase, I find, and it bothers me that the first thing I think of is the Returns counter at the department store. I’m hoping (rather fervently) that ‘many happy returns’ is not meant to imply ‘I hope that you spend as little time as possible in line returning this lovely silk scarf for that practical multi-function blender that you’ve had your eye on.’ If that is the actual meaning, then Merry Christmas ought include this phrase as well. Perhaps if we did that, the myriads of people waiting to return gifts would actually be smiling rather than scowling.
Alas, as I am a fairly (modest, no?) intelligent individual, I decided to rely on my trusty Google to provide me with some answers. As it happens, I am not the only person who was curious about this, because the number of hits is actually quite alarming.
According to some less-than-expert people on an interesting little site, “The happy returns on your birthday refer to solar returns – the moment when the sun returns to the zodiac sign and degree it occupied at your birth”. Ah. Well, of course.
According to the Phrase Finder, however, it simply means: Have many more happy days. And, as it turns out, there’s a Latin phrase that roughly means the same thing: Ad multos annos. See, now that I like. I think from now on I might add this Latin phrase to my well wishes in future birthday cards.
Ad multos annos on this lovely scarf. And if you don’t mind making me a strawberry and blackberry smoothie in your new blender, I’ll pretend I didn’t even buy you this scarf. Bueno!