My Bonny

chiefly British : ATTRACTIVE, FAIR; also : FINE, EXCELLENT

  • bon·ni·ly /'bä-n&-lE/ adverb

My bonny lies over the ocean.
My attractive lies over the ocean?
My excellent lies over the ocean?

What the …?

Well, Bonnie is also a proper name but I think this is a case of an adjective with an implied noun.

Another example would be “my darling”, as in “Oh my darling, oh my darling, oh my darling Clementine”. (Any old Huckleberry Hound fans out there?)

If I call my wife “my darling” she would know what I meant (although she might be suspicious about what I wanted) even though the complete phrase would be “my darling wife”, or “my darling girl”, or “my darling dishwasher” or whatever.


“non sunt multiplicanda entia praeter necessitatem”
– William of Ockham

Gee, that puts a new spin on that song.

I always thought it said

My bonnie lies UNDER the ocean
My bonnie lies UNDER the sea

With the implication that her bonnie was dead.

As a kid, it was often rendered to me as:

 "My body lies over the ocean. . .
 Oh, bring back my body to me."

Ray (OOBE)

So, then,

My bonny lies over the ocean = My darling lives on the other side of the pond?

Makes sense.

BTW, how did the Scottish ever get ahold of that word? My dictionary says it’s of unknown origin. But ‘bonito/a’ (‘pretty’) in Spanish comes close in meaning and spelling to it. I assume ‘bonito’ is related to the Latin ‘bonus’ (‘good’). Did ‘bonnie’ follow a parallel route to that of ‘bonito’ – if not over the ocean, at least over the Channel?

Ray (Beau? No. Bony toe.)

Almost certainly French influence. France and Scotland enjoyed close relations at one time. Many Scots soldiers served as mercenaries for French monarchs. This had the added benefit of pissing off the English no end.

Many words from French found their way into Scots usage (“Lallans”, or Scots, not Gaelic):

Haggis is actually from hachis, meaning chopped up, (as the ingredients to a haggis certainly are)

a rubber ball is (or was) often called a cahoochy ball, from cahoutchouc, meaning rubber. And my late granny, born in 1902, used to call an eraser a cahootchy, instead of the standard British ‘rubber’.

A stoneware platter or dish for pies is called in Scotland an ‘ashet’, which is a corruption of assiette, or plate.

“Bonnie” is very likely from the French bonne, meaning good, nice, pleasant.

I’ll dig out my Scots dictionary when I get home and find more examples.

One of my (chubby) aunts used to sing it:

My body lies over my girdle…
My body lies over my bra…

There was more but I don’t remember it.

Oddly enough, her name is Bonnie.


Full of 'satiable curtiosity

Yes! But a better example would be the 1946 classic Western “My Darling Clementine” starring Henry Fonda, Victor Mature, Walter Brennan, and Ward Bond. MAN, what a great movie! They sure don’t make 'em like that anymore.

Maybe shipwrecked sailors from the Spanish Armada washing up in Scotland? (Hey, it’s possible. I’ve heard that explanation used for the origin of the “black Irish” in Ireland. Why not Scotland?)

The above is from Mirriam-Webster. Bonnie is from bon, as suspected.

Is the singer’s “bonny” a man or a woman? The last line of the song is “oh bring back my bonny to me” which implies the singer was left behind while “bonny” went overseas.
Considering it was fairly rare in days past for a woman to leave her man behind to travel in foreign lands, doesn’t this mean that the singer probably was a woman singing about her bonny man?

I heard that it actually refered to Bonny Price Charlie. The Scots believed that he was the rightful ruler of Scotland, but England of course had other ideas. Prince Charlie was in exhile across the ocean, in France I think. So, my bonny lies over the ocean refers to Prince Charlie away from his homeland and people.

I could be VERY wrong, but I could swear I’ve heard the above somewhere.

My bonny lies over the ocean
My bonny lies over the sea
My daddy lied over my mommy
And that’s how they got little me!