Head first and
everything else behind
U 12.836-7: Walking about with his book and pencil here's
my head and my heels are coming.
Gifford calls here’s my head and my heels are coming "a popular expression
suggesting ill-coordinated haste of a person whose intentions are better than
his performance." Documentary evidence shows it is rather a person’s
figure and posture than their attitude that is indicated here.
though slightly uncertain early candidate can be found in a New Zealand paper:
When our local friend
discovers that he has collided, he stands still, here’s my head fashion, and in
a very gentlemanly manner politely intimates to the butcher, that he is waiting
to pass […]
(Blenheim, New Zealand) 24 February
1877, p. 7
and the first available example of the full
form again comes from the New Zealand papers:
Who is that
delicate-looking youth with the "Here’s my head, and my feet are coming"
expression, that invariably appears in Volunteer uniform at the various dances
held in town?
4 August 1883
the first two examples leave the reader guessing the meaning of the expression,
the following quotation clearly indicates that it relates to a forward-stooping
Sit up straight in
your saddle, Simpson. It's “here's my head and my boots are coming” with you —
sit upright, man. I saw you in the Park on Saturday, on foot, with Ada. You'll
never be able to take her out for a ride if you don't learn to ride better than
H. P. Holt,
The Mounted Police of Natal
(London 1913), p.21
evidence suggests that the tendency of tall people to stoop may be another component
in the meaning of the phrase:
The science of
Anthropology has divided mankind into two main branches, the Long and the Short
Heads. We all of us know the sort of Image that when it enters a room says as
plainly as any Ideograph, "'Ere's my 'ead, and my hinder parts (Exodus 33,
v. 23) are coming". If the creature were examined it would be found to be
dolichocephalic and steatopygous.
The New Age
(1915), vol. 16, p. 573
and Joyce’s friend Byrne confirms this in his
memoir when writing about a Dublin librarian, Tommy Hickey:
He was so tall, and
so conscious of it, that he always walked stooped forward. Of course, he
couldn't escape being joked about as "here's me head, and me heels are comin'".
(New York 1953), p.
Partridge, in his Dictionary of Slang and
Unconventional English (1937) offers a more colourful version of the
here’s me head, me arse is comin'
", which he says was “a workmen's
c[atch]p[hrase]., dating since c. 1895 […] in ref. to a girl or woman that,
wearing high heels, walks with the shoulders well forward and with the buttocks
(esp. if shapely or buxom) well behind. Orig[inally] of any forward-slooping
There is no doubt that this version was established,
as it was used years later by Frank McCourt:
That's where poor
Peter Dooley comes in. We call him Quasimodo because he has a hump on his back
like the one on the hunchback of Notre Dame […] Before he leaves his house he
always sticks his head out the door and tells the lane, Here's me head, me arse
Angela’s Ashes (
and Partridge’s nuance is seen in this
quotation, from the same year as Partridge’s dictionary:
She has a large
posterior which sticks out so that she has a suggestion of "here's my head
and my backside is coming" about her when she walks across a room.
A Plain Tale from the Bogs (
1937), p. 96
this feature of the phrase does not seem to be relevant to the I-narrator of
the Cyclops episode when he scoffs at Bloom as a cattle dealer’s assistant busily
scribbling in his notebook.
we can see that numerous slang sites, such as Irish
Identity, attest to the use of the phrase in contemporary