To be over the hill

Example in use: “Happy 40th Birthday, Susan!” “Oh, please don’t say that number! I feel so old, I’m totally over the hill!”

Meaning: to be old, too old, past your best, something or someone who is in decline

Possible German equivalent: jenseits von gut und böse

Possible origin: Originating in Britain in the early 1900s, this expression used to be said around someone’s 40th birthday, which was considered to be at least half way through their life. At that time, people were considered to be heading up the hill of life’s progression in their first 40 years and once you’d reached the top, it was all downhill from there!

There is another meaning to the expression which seems to come from the 17th century nursery rhyme, “Over the hills and far away”. In this form it can mean to break out of prison and vanish which is a very literal interpretation of the “over the hill” meaning. This use of the phrase is far less common, though.

However, using this idiom to refer to someone’s age is generally considered to be light hearted and humorous - not really meaning “old”. After all, 40 is no longer thought to be half of your life, even if the expression has still stuck. In more recent years, you often hear expressions such as “40 is the new 30” which means that people who are 40 now are as young in their ways and looks as people used to be when they were 30! I’m working on extending this idea as far as possible! Basically, we are all getting younger and I, for one, don’t like to think of myself as over the hill in any way!

over / ˈəuvə

Welcome again to our weekly series that hopes to go behind the scenes of some rather typical English expressions.