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

Sleep like a top

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'Sleep like a top'?

To sleep like a top is to sleep very soundly.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Sleep like a top'?

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?

The meaning and origin of the expression 'Sleep like a top'Tops, 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. The earliest citation I know of is the 1634 edition of Fletcher and Shakespeare's play The Two Noble Kinsmen:

"O for a pricke now like a nightingale, to put my breast against. I shall sleep like a top else."

[My thanks to Peter Lukacs, for the above citation.]

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.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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