You’ve heard it in Disney movies, read it in story books, seen it on posters…but where on earth does this famous phrase come from?
First, it’s important to know that the phrase actually doesn’t originate from fairy tales. The Oxford English Dictionary notes the phrase has been used in some form since at least 1380, beginning with fables, myths, and folklore.
As translators began adapting fairy tales from French, Danish, and German, they noticed common phrases like: “there was”, “there once was”, and “one time long ago”, which gradually became translated into one familiar phrase: “once upon a time”. In fact, more than 80 languages have a story starter than roughly translates into this phrase!
From roughly 1600 onward, “once upon a time” became a frequently used and commonly recognizable phrase to mark the start of a fairy tale. Shortly thereafter, we started to see similar endings, most notably “happily ever after”.