"sleep tight"

Charles C Doyle cdoyle at UGA.EDU
Thu Feb 14 16:16:55 UTC 2013

A folklore student of mine was discussing the widely-known nocturnal jingle or chant "Good night, sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite."  She was perplexed by--obviously unfamiliar with--the somewhat idiomatic phrase "sleep tight"; she wondered if wrapping up tightly in a blanket is supposed the deter the onslaught of bedbugs!  At my urging, of course, she betook herself to the OED, where, we discovered (to my surprise) the earliest example of "tight" modifying the verb "sleep" is from 1933 ("Good night, Son, sleep tight").  An 1898 quotation has "asleep tight."

A quick search of the ProQuest newspapers gives the sequence "Good night. Sleep tight" from 1890:  Katharine Lee Bates, "Sibyl's Adventure," _The Independent_ (28 Aug.).  In 1874 an unattributed essay "Jack-in-the-Pulpit," _St. Nicholas_ magazine (Jun.), included what  purports to be a letter from one "Heather o' Scotland" (also dated 1874):  "May ye sleep tight an' ha'e mony happy dreams."

Presumably, the OED regards "sleep tight" not as an idiom or fixed phrase but simply as one among many possible adverbial uses of "tight."

In any case, somnolar "tight" is somewhat older than the OED entry reveals.  But not, perhaps, in the company of bedbugs.


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