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The meaning and origin of the expression: The land of Nod

The land of Nod

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'The land of Nod'?

The Land of Nod is a mythical land where we travel to to sleep.

What's the origin of the phrase 'The land of Nod'?

The land of nod'The Land of Nod' is the dreamy land that we imagine ourselves travelling to as we are falling off to sleep.

The phrase was formed as a little play on words which links sleeping, that is 'nodding off', with the place called Nod which is referred to in the bible.

The biblical Nod was a place of anguished exile rather than of peaceful sleep. It is mentioned right at the beginning of the Bible and is located 'East of Eden' and it is where Cain dwelt after being cast out by God after Cain's murder of his brother Abel. The name Nod was chosen with a purpose. 'Nod' (נוד) is the Hebrew root of the verb 'to wander' (לנדוד). The implication is that Cain, being in disgrace, was sent to wander aimlessly.

'East of Eden', being clearly not in Eden (Paradise), has also been taken up into the English language as a place/state of considerable discomfiture. Variations of both phrases were published in early versions of the bible, but it is the forms in the King James Version that are now best remembered, in Genesis 4:16:

And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.

Nodding, as in the brief inclination of the head, has been in use as a verb in English since at least the 14th century; Geoffery Chaucer recorded it in The Manciple's Tale, circa 1390:

"Sirs, what! Dun is in the mire!
Is there no man, then, who, for prayer or hire,
Will wake our comrade who's so far behind?
A thief might easily rob him and bind.
See how he's nodding!

It is easy to see how someone of a punning disposition might equate the land of Nod with 'nodding off'. Step forward Dean Jonathan Swift. It appears that Swift was the first person to make the little linguistic joke, in A complete collection of genteel and ingenious conversation, 1738. The good Dean has his characters refer to several punning names for going to sleep:

Lady Answ. I'm sure 'tis time for honest Folks to be a-bed.
Miss. Indeed my Eyes draws Straw.
Col. I'm going to the Land of Nod.
Neverout. Faith, I'm for Bedfordshire.

The land of nodProprietors of bed and mattress shops have good reason to thank Jonathan Swift, as 'The Land of Nod' has become a popular name for such.

See also, the meaning and origin of:

Sleep tight
Sleep like a top
Sleep on a clothesline

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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