life of Riley

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US 1902 (using the spelling "Reilly"). Popularized during World War I. Earlier origin unknown; various theories exist.[1]


  • (UK, US) IPA(key): /ˈlaɪf əv ˈɹaɪ.li/
  • (file)


life of Riley

  1. (idiomatic, dated) An ideal life of carefree prosperity and luxurious contentment.
    • 1902 June 24, “Not the "Life of Reilly"”, in Morning Call[1], Paterson, NJ, page 8:
      It's the life of Reilly, but we're not stuck on it at that [...] If I stay her[sic] doing this sort of work for another week I won't be fit to work all summer, for I'm getting lazier every day
    • 1909 July 30, “"Wanderlust" Gripped Mike: Thirteen-year old Italian Boy Found by Brother Yesterday”, in Morning Call[2], Paterson, NJ, page 1:
      Michael, according to his own story, had "been living the life of Riley" ever since he bolted.
    • 1911, “Bullet Ends Life of Famous Wild Cow”, The Hartford Courant, December 1911:[1]
      The famous wild cow of Cromwell is no more. After “living the life of Riley” for over a year, successfully evading the pitchforks and the bullets of the farmers, whose fields she ravaged in all four seasons.
    • 1919, Alexander Woollcott, The Command is Forward: Tales of the A.E.F. Battlefields, page 257:
      This is the story of the softships of the Third American Army. For the Yankee troops who were assigned to take and hold the Coblenz bridgehead are leading the life of Riley on the Rhine.
    • 1919 “My Name is Kelly”, Harry Pease:
      Faith and my name is Kelly, Michael Kelly,
      But I’m living the life of Reilly just the same.

Usage notes[edit]

Generally used as “living the life of Riley” or “leading the life of Riley”.

Alternative forms[edit]



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Gary Martin (1997–), “The life of Riley”, in The Phrase Finder, retrieved 26 February 2017.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Michael Quinion (created October 31, 1998, last updated October 22, 2011), “Life of Riley”, in World Wide Words.
  3. ^ Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origin
  4. ^ #1225 - Are You the O'Reilly?, Roller Organ Cobography
  5. ^ Are You the O’Reilly
  6. ^ The Life of Riley”, James Whitcomb, attributing it to James Whitcomb Riley