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The meaning and origin of the expression: Sleep like a top

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Sleep like a top

Meaning

Sleep soundly.

Origin

Similes of the 'like a' type usually relate some verb with a noun that possesses the property the simile is aiming to convey; for example, 'drink like a fish', 'go over like a lead balloon'. Why 'top', or why 'log' in the related term 'sleep like a log' for that matter?

sleep like a topTops, or more correctly spinning-tops', were popular amusements in the days before children had access to toys requiring batteries. The British Museum has on display tops from Egypt, dating from around 1250 BC. When a top is spinning well the precessional effect causes its axis to remain stationary and it can appear to be still, that is, 'sleeping'.

The expression 'sleep like a top' is quite old and is recorded from at least 1693, when it appeared in William Congreve's The Old Batchelour:

"Should he seem to rouse, 'tis but well lashing him, and he will sleep like a Top."

Incidentally, 'sleep like a log' apparently derives from the immobility of logs, like tops, although some have suggested it to derive from the sound of sawing being like the sound of snoring.