This is the full read-only archive of the "Ask the Wordwizard" section of the original Wordwizard site. The responses to the questions originate from Jonathon Green, the compiler of the Cassell Dictionary of Slang and numerous other dictionaries.
Where did the term 'mooncalf' come from - and what exactly does it mean?
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Harvard Square Scriptwriters
Submitted by Scott Anderson (Concord - U.S.A.)
Signature: Topic imported and archived
Mooncalf is defined in the following senses:
1. a. An abortive shapeless fleshy mass in the womb; a false conception. Obs.
Regarded as being produced by the influence of the moon.
b. A misshapen birth, a monstrosity. Obs. or arch.
c. One born with undeveloped brain; a congenital idiot; a born fool.
2. In allusive or misapprehended senses.
a. One who gazes at the moon; a ‘mooning’, absent-minded person.
† b. A child of the moon; a fickle, unstable person. Obs. rare.
3. An animal imagined to inhabit the moon.
The origin seems to lie in the German 'mondkalb' (moon calf) and 'mondkind' (moon-child).
Signature: Jonathon Green