Posted by Shae on July 11, 2003
In Reply to: Hoot owl posted by ESC on July 11, 2003
: : : : Does anyone know where this phrase came from? I think it means that people who used to work night hours became so sleep deprived that they literally droped dead from exhaustion. Being that the world operates from 9 to 5 most people have difficulty adjusting to sleeping during the day and usually have business they need to take care of, therefore causing them to develope bad health from the lack of sleep, thus ending up in the graveyard.
: : : I think you are close - but not quite right. I think that the statistic is that more people die of natural causes at 4 a.m. or thereabouts than at any other time of day. I think the expression came from that - probably either from nursing or the emergency services who would be called out to the recently corpsed. I think it may also have a derivation from "quiet as the grave". I'm sure that it did not refer to people dying because they worked at that time, but I could stand to be corrected.
: : We've discussed "graveyard shift" before. See the archived post
: : http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/7/messages/838.html
: : (link below).
: : I don't see that we need to look to mortality rates to explain why the graveyard shift is called that. It's the third shift, the last shift of the day. That position as the end of something could associate it with death (it was once called the dying shift). It takes place in quiet, more or less, and dark. That would help too.
: In addition to the archived information:
: GRAVEYARD SHIFT - "The 'graveyard shift' is the shift of workers that starts at midnight.The name refers, according to Wentworth and Flexner's 'Dictionary of American Slang" to 'the ghostlike hour of employment'." From "Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins" by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollins, New York, 1977, 1988).
: In West Virginia we called it the "hoot owl shift." My father was a coal miner and he often had to work "hoot owl." That meant we got to stay up late and watch TV. When he was home it was "lights out" at 7 p.m.!!
I still like to think that the term originated during the 'body snatching' days in Victorian Britain and Ireland when newly buried corpses were dug up and sold to disectionists for medical research. Most such disinternments took place during the hours of darkness, and police or guards were deployed to keep watch over new burials to prevent removal of the corpse. Thus the term 'graveyard shift.'
Alas, I cannot provide any supporting evidence but, being a romantic, this morbid explanation appeals.