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Each morning, a colleague of mine greets me with the phrase:

Top of the morning to you!

I've tried to figure out what the meaning of this really is and how to properly respond, however there seems to be dozens of interpretations as to what this phrase actually means.

Does anyone know what the origin and original meaning of this phrase is?

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I just said this in a message to a friend in N.I., and she came straight back with "and the rest of the day to yourself". I'd never heard this before - so came looking! – user44402 May 17 '13 at 7:11
up vote 28 down vote accepted

The phrase is Irish in origin but now very rarely used in Ireland (except as a sterotypical "Irishism"). It simply means "the best of the morning to you" - perhaps from the idea of unhomogenised milk, where the cream rises to the top. An appropriate response might be a simple "thank you" although the traditional response would be "And the rest of the day to yourself."

Terrible attempts at Irish accents, dancing a jig and leprechaun costumes are entirely optional while saying this.

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I notice you say "now" - my Galway father-in-law is heading for 80 and uses it so it may be his generation. – Wudang Dec 12 '11 at 18:41
The milk reference is intriguing, how'd you come about that? – hafichuk Dec 12 '11 at 20:04
@hafichuk The "perhaps" is very important- it's a bit of guesswork (although I think I've heard the theory before somewhere, I can't place where). Bringing the milk in is/was a typical morning activity so there seems a natural linkage. – Waggers Dec 12 '11 at 22:34
Marking this as the best answer that includes a response. Thanks! – hafichuk Jan 8 '13 at 15:50
It sounds like a very typical literal translation of what would be a perfectly natural and logical-sounding phrase in Irish, barr na maidine duit/ort. Only problem is I've never heard or seen that phrase anywhere in Irish, and the only sources I can find to support its existence are forum posts on the Internet claiming with no further evidence that it is the origin of the English phrase. Looks like a bit of a red herring. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 3 '14 at 13:38

This was used in Theodore Cyphon, or, The benevolent Jew: a novel, Volume 3 by George Walker, published in 1796. The protagonist is greeted not long after landing on the shore of Essex:

Halloo ! you teney" cried one, " the top of the morning to you. Have you seen pass a tall chap, in a light blue coat, with striped trow sers. ** Nea," said I, " I hana seen urn, what sort a man was en?"

"Halloo ! you teney" cried one, " the top of the morning to you. Have you seen pass a tall chap, in a light blue coat, with striped trowsers."

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Wonderful find! I had no idea the phrase was centuries old. Doesn't quite explain the original meaning, but well worth a +1. – hafichuk Dec 12 '11 at 20:01
It's always a good idea to include a link to where you got that information. Otherwise it's plagiarism – Java D Aug 16 '13 at 12:30
@JavaD: The 1796 links to the book in Google Books. The book was published in 1796 and is 217 years old so I expect is out of copyright. I also clearly state the title of the book and the author and am not attempting to pass off the 217-year-old book as my own work. I did search Google Books myself though to find this quotation. If it was from the OED, I'd say so. Thanks! – Hugo Aug 16 '13 at 13:45

First, he gets it right as a lot of people say "The top of the morning to you" but my Irish in-laws don't. It's an Irish expression and means "the best of the morning to you" and an appropriate reply is "And the rest of the day to you". NB wikipedia incorrectly calls it Irish-American. No, just plain Irish.

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protected by Jim Mar 3 '14 at 5:33

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