"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Living the life of Riley

The expression 'living the life of Riley' suggests an ideal life of prosperity and contentment, possibly living on someone else's money, time or work. The expression was popular in the 1880s, a time when James Whitcomb Riley's poems depicted the comforts of a prosperous home life.

However, the expression could have an Irish origin: after the Reilly clan consolidated its hold on County Cavan, they minted their own money, accepted as legal tender even in England. These coins, called “O'Reillys” and “Reilly's,” became synonymous with a monied person, and a gentleman freely spending was “living on his Reillys.


  1. There is a HUGE déja vu about this.

  2. I love this blog. I love reading and learning the meaning of old sayings. It's in my genes, my grandmother kept a handwritten book of "Old Sayings", collecting them over the years, many indigenious to my region, the Old South here in the U.S. Often, however, I have come to find that these sayings were rooted in English slang brought over with the folks who settled here in the 1700's and, being isolated here in rural areas more than urban areas up North, the sayings stayed in active usage until my generation(the baby-boomers) and are now almost never heard. For example, when asked how a neighbor was doing, a reply could easily have been, "Same old six and sevens" meaning: the individudal's life and activiies are not much changed.

    Thank you so much for the website. Would appreciate your sharing best sources for your definitions.

    Thanks, again.