Posted by Vic Harding on January 14, 2000
In Reply to: Re: Sleep Tight posted by ESC on January 14, 2000
: : : : I'm trying to find ou about the phrase "sleep tight" Does anyone know where the theory that it orginates from beds being strung with ropes which went slack after a time comes from? I need more background information, preferably by Tuesday 18 January. Any help would be greatly appreciated!
: : : I've looked in several reference books and couldn't find the origin of "sleep tight." Too bad you weren't looking for "sleep like a top." That I found!
: : : I did find this in "Listening to America" by Stuart Berg Flexner (Simon and Schuster, 1982) in a section called "Beds, Bunks, Pajamas, and Nighty-Night" -- "As they had done in England, early colonists bid each other 'good night,' 'sleep soundly,' 'have a good night,' and 'God give you a good night.' Our American admonition 'sleep tight' became common in the 1880s, as did our breezier 'nighty-night' ..."
: : : Earlier in the section, it does mention ropes, During early colonial and frontier days "A bed was then usually just a pallet of blankets on the floor or a tick filled with corn shucks, straw, or wood chips, but the more demanding settler might build a 'jack bed,' a platform on legs, usually placed in a corner of the room. If householders had a real 'bedstead,' with ropes or straps laced across the frame to hold the tick and serve as springs, they talked of it with pride (bed springs were not invented until 1831)."
: : : So the expression became common in the 1880s, long after bed springs were invented in 1831. But maybe the expression was a holdover from frontier times.
: : : The way I remember the nightly ritual, a person would say, "Sleep tight." The response was, "Don't let the bedbugs bite." Then, "See you in the morning light."
: : The OED records usage as far back as 1790 of "tight" meaning "soundly." Sleep tight seems to be the only surviving coloquial use that preserves that meaning. There are plenty of other uses of "tight" that have the sense of "snug" so the usage seems like it likely came from the feeling of being snug in your bed as a condition for sound sleep. No mention of ropes in this regard.
: This reminds me of an old newspaper expression. It sounds like a vulgarism, but it referred to getting a story written fast and accurately with no superfluous words: "Get it right, get it tight and get it tonight.
: A couple of years ago while tourig Nelson's ship 'Victory'at Plymouth the guide mentioned the origin of "sleep tight" as originating with the navy. Apparently hammocks are more comfortable if the ropes are drawn tight to reduce the amount of sag. (Incidentally, we were also informed that the ship's officers slept in boxes rather than hammocks, and that these would serve as coffins for the occupant if a burial at sea was required.)