Sleep Tight: It Means Exactly What You Think it Means

Welcome back to the office, everyone. I hope you all enjoyed the weekend.

I have a fairly quick one today.

Sleep tight: It’s way to wish someone a restful night’s sleep, but why would your rest be tight? We also say, “Sleep well,” & “Have a good sleep,” so where does tight come into play & why is it so grammatically incorrect?

There are numerous reports on the web saying that this phrase originated from the use of old fashioned mattresses. Most of the sources claim their information comes from a BBC report in 2008, claiming that old mattresses were supported by intertwined ropes, instead of modern bed frames & box springs. Every so often, the ropes would need to be tightened, as they’d loosen after nightly use.

After telling someone to sleep tight, you can say, “Don’t let the bed bugs bite.” Bed bugs are like a plague & if you get them, they’re almost impossible to clear. This idea lead to more self-proclaimed experts asserting that it had to do with tucking the sheets in tightly, so it’s harder for the bugs to crawl in with you.

As convincing as those may sound & as credible as the BBC is, they’re just not true. “Sleep tight,” is very a old expression, & the origin comes down to the way the words were used. According to the Oxford Dictionary’s “Word Origins” site & Amazon’s The Word Detective, tight is nothing more than an evolution of the adverb, tightly. Modern spoken English tends to drop the “ly” off of adverbs, so instead of saying something like, “The boy ran quickly,” many people say, “The boy rand quick.” This seems to be what happened, here.

Now that that’s cleared up, it’s time to figure why the word tight is used. Back then, it was a word with multiple definitions, & the one we’re looking at today means soundly or properly. Taken in this context, you really aren’t saying anything more than, “Have a great sleep.” The reason we don’t ever hear it used this way is because it’s is the last known example of tight being used this way.

The origin of sleep tight is deceptively simple. Unlike many expressions we use today, it means exactly what it was originally intended to mean.

Well, that’s it for me for now. I hope you have a good rest of the week. Now you know; you’re welcome.


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Filed under Etymology

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