Put to sleep


What's the meaning of the phrase 'Put to sleep'?

Euphemism for killing – usually of an animal.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Put to sleep'?

The phrase ‘put to sleep’ is suggestive of a quiet peaceful demise, such that a vet might provide for an dying animal in order to forestall prolonged suffering. It’s the kind of euphemism that might be spoken to a child when their beloved pet had to be killed.

The earliest example of the expression that I’ve found in print doesn’t quite live up to that ethical standard. It is a story of a woman who wanted to have her, presumably healthy, pet dog killed in order for it to be buried with her. It comes from the English newspaper The Western Gazette, December 1934:

That her dog Punch should be painlessly put to sleep buried with her was a request in the will of Mrs. Henrietta Elizabeth Lascelles, of Benson Hill-parade, Herne Bay.

Trend of put to sleep in printed material over time

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.

Gary Martin

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.