Sleep tight…or…
What expression is next to be lost?


Have you ever heard the sleep tight saying?

What am I asking? Of course you’ve heard some version of it. Sleep tight… bugs bite… we’ve all pretty much heard some version of the saying.

Amazingly though, the origin of the expression may not be what you think.

There was a time when beds were supported by ropes. These ropes formed a support structure… think old-time version of a box spring under a mattress… and the support was best when those ropes were tighter.

So, of course, “sleep tight” refers to the ropes.

Actually… most sources say nope. In fact, if you research it, you’ll be really hard pressed to find a place that believes that’s in any way a part of the saying. Almost any place I found that did mention it basically explained that it was once considered, and then quickly dismissed it.

Without going too deeply into it and causing some sort of literal confusion (in so many different ways, each of which literally could apply) the problem with the ropes is found in what the phrase is actually addressing. It’s an offering to a person… not a bed.

Think about it… a person is offered comfort by one that hopes they sleep tight… the person being tight, not the bed. The widely accepted idea for the origin of the phrase is found in older and somewhat no longer used meanings of the word tight. Some examples would be that the word often applied to health and physical states. In short, to sleep tight meant to sleep well.

The origin is a wish that you sleep well. From there, it kind of becomes less relevant whether or not the ropes are tight.

Every year we begin hearing about words and phrases that are being added to accepted resources. (Think dictionaries) And when articles and postings are made about such decisions, it often gets me wondering about words… not because the word or even a complete phrase is all that new, or even worthy of some formal acceptance, but rather I wonder about it because the intentions and meanings of the words are changing.

It happens all the time. Words come in and out of the common vocabulary. And, more to the point, words shift and evolve. It’s so amazingly fluid, and yet so easily missed.

Hundreds of years ago, there was a word -- clew. It referred to a ball of yarn, and over time the spelling became clue. At some point, according to what I understand of the story, the idea evolved of following a winding and overlapping trail from beginning to end (visualize it… a long piece of wound yarn or string), turning into our idea of how clues can explain and solve a mystery.

I selected clew/clue because I didn’t want to use some of the easy and recent ideas many of us might quickly come up with. I also wanted to take something that has developed over centuries as a way of showing that such shifts have been going on for quite some time. In fact… it dates back to the very origins of language and communication.

Different languages use different sounds and words for describing the same thing. In some cases… very different sounds and words. In other cases… different, but very similar.

The scary thing to me though is when we begin taking words out of context. Even more frightening is when one generation attempts to correct the supposed errors of those that came before. You know… political correctness creeps in… opinion of today editing realities of yesterday.

It’s true… over the years, and even quickly between just the time frame of a generation or two… we can see words such as tight change, morph, and take on a new intention and definition. It’s also true that often the origins, with words like clue, can be forgotten or thought about incorrectly.

Have you ever watched a movie from Disney, or Pixar? And, in new films, have you ever noticed some of those little elements that immediately connect with you as inside jokes or details?

I think about those when it comes to the original classics… Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs… Dumbo… and so on. And I begin to wonder, since they do things like that now it certainly stands to reason that they did things like that all along.

Robin Williams races through an incredible string of jokes in Aladdin. How many people will see that film for the first time in twenty or thirty years and not get the sources or connections or inspirations of the jokes? The humor will still connect and be funny. But a bit of the magic will be lost when impressions aren’t recognized.

It’s more than simply creating something that’s timeless though. Bringing it back to words… I wonder about shifting meanings and usage.

Sleep tight.

From ropes supporting mattresses to a wish for a good night of rest, the actual expression and the larger scope of people discussing it is pretty fascinating. And for some reason, it bothers me when I think about how so many similar things have been lost over time.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at