EtymologyThe earliest recorded example of mooncalf was in a thesaurus of 1565, in which the term was explicitly applied to a woman. The reference here was to a false pregnancy, to a growth in the womb that was not a foetus. -- Michael Quinion
By 1614 it had evolved to mean someone under the influence of the moon.
- A foolish person.
- But I can think of no one but a mooncalf or a gaby
- Who would trust their own child to raise a baby.'' — Ogden Nash, "Come On In, The Senility Is Fine"
Mooncalf was a term formerly ascribed to the abortive fetus of a cow or other farm animal, and also occasionally to that of a human.
The term arose from the formerly widespread belief, present in many European folk traditions, that such malformed creatures were the product of the sinister influence of the moon on fetal development.
Modern usageMooncalf is used as a derogatory term to indicate someone is a simpleton, fool or otherwise not particularly bright or sharp. A dullard.
Use in fictionThe term came to be used to refer to any monstrous or grotesque thing. Shakespeare, for instance, used the term to describe Caliban, the deformed servant of Prospero, in The Tempest.
The term is also used as a name for a character in the computer game Discworld Noir, head of the cult of Anu Anu; and as a nickname for Seoman Snowlock from Tad William's Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn books.
In the Harry Potter universe, a mooncalf is a strange, glassy-eyed creature with overlarge feet that dances at night in fields, leaving crop circles in its wake.
In Gerald Durrell's fantasy book The Talking Parcel, the mooncalf is a large fictional creature with the head of a cow and body of a snail which lives in the land of Mythologia. The mooncalf has three spigots on the back of its shell for warm milk, cold milk and cream and leaves a trail of mooncalf jelly which can be willed (by the mind) into different shapes.
In Bruce Cordell's Dungeons & Dragons's adventure Heart of Nightfang Spire, the mooncalf is a large fictional creature possessed of bat wings and many tentacles that are sometimes encountered on "mountain tops, the tips of tall hills, and generally lonely, desolate places."
mooncalf in German: Mondkalb
mooncalf in Low German: Maankind