"Forty winks"

Posted by ESC on May 04, 2000

In Reply to: "Forty winks" posted by Clarissa on May 03, 2000

: Please, if anyone could help me find the *origin* of the phrase "catching forty winks", I would appreciate it much.
: Many thanks

Forty winks - "Early colonists simply would 'got to bed' or 'take a nap,' as they had in England, but in the 1820s our terms '40 winks' and 'cat nap' grew common," according to Stuart Berg Flexner in Listening to America: An Illustrated History of Words and Phrases from Our Lively and Splendid Past (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1982).

Charles Earle Funk, in Heavens to Betsy! and Other Curious Sayings (Harper & Row, New York, 1955) hazards a guess as to why 40: "to take forty winks - Though I'm not saying that the reading of the Thirty-nine Articles has an actual bearing on the 'forty winks' or short nap that is likely to succeed that reading - or interrupt it - such a sequel could be inferred. The Thirty-nine Articles, for the benefit of the unenlightened, are the articles of faith of the Church of England which the clergy are required to accept. Adoption became legal by parliamentary action in 1571 in the reign of Elizabeth I. Needless to say, the perusal of these articles is likely to be considered most dreary. At least they led a writer in 'Punch' (November 16, 1872) to say: 'If a .man, after reading through the Thirty-nine Articles, were to take forty winks' and that is the first literary record of this precise number of winks."

Actually, I've heard the expression "to catch forty winks."

Throwing this in for good measure on the "40" issue. "How Did It Begin?" by R. Brasch (Pocket Books, New York, 1966) has a whole section on the number 40. "Once it was believed that there was magic in figures and the number 40 especially was thought to possess supernatural powers. A unit of 40, as it was imagined in early days, could shield