I was reading Florence Lamborn's translation, from Swedish, of Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking (the translation appears to date from 1950). I read the following sentence:

... Just at that moment the gate of one of the cottages nearby opened and a boy came rushing out. He looked scared, and that was no wonder, because head over heels after him came five other boys. ... (emphasis mine)

I had never seen the phrase "head over heels" to mean, as it seems to from this context, "immediately after." I looked it up and found, in my Shorter Oxford, and on dictionary.com, only the meanings I already knew (topsy-turvy and intensely infatuated). On Wiktionary I did find this second definition, which does seem to fit the sentence:

At top speed; frantically

This question and this question both discuss "head over heels" but not with this meaning. Is it commonly recognized, today? And is it more British English? (I do not know, but assume that the translator of this edition was British, based on other expressions in the book).

  • Why do you feel that topsy-turvy, in the sense of chaotically, doesn't fit here?
    – Jim
    Sep 24, 2012 at 3:42
  • Five boys would not be topsy turvy if they were in hot pursuit. It just doesn't seem to fit (to me at least).
    – JAM
    Sep 24, 2012 at 4:23
  • "[H]ead over heels after him came five other boys" is just as likely to be American English as British English. Jim's translation of the metaphor into "chaotically" is, I think, the default meaning that most native speakers of English would come up with.
    – user21497
    Sep 24, 2012 at 4:24
  • I've always thought 'head over heels' should be 'heels over head'. It makes much more sense logically. Sep 14, 2019 at 11:31

2 Answers 2


None of Webster, ODO, Collins, or MacMillan lists "At top speed; frantically" as a possible definition of "head over heels". They only note the two definitions that the OP is familiar with. However, I can imagine without any great difficulty that frantic top-speed running could well involve chaotic stumbling and tumbling, and vice versa. So, it's not all that much of a stretch.

He looked scared, and that was no wonder, because head over heels after him came five other boys.

This could easily have been written by Stephen Fry with wholly different connotations.


The intention seems to be something more along the lines of the boys in pursuit are falling all over each other trying to catch up with that which they pursue. They can't keep their feet for the speed and willy-nilly fervor with which they are running.

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