Who doesn’t want to know the meanings behind some of these quirky, sleepy sayings?

  • Hit the Hay (or, Hit the Sack)  – Go to bed. In the early 1900s, mattresses were stuffed with straw or hay Also, some people actually did sleep on haystacks in the barn. Mary and Jesus, anyone?
  • Between You, Me and the BedpostA secret; something that only the speaker, listener (and the bedpost if s/he could talk) should know. The earliest mention of this phrase comes from the 1832 novel Eugene Aram by Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s. “Between you and me and the bed-post – young master’s quarreled with old master.”
  • Woke Up on the Wrong Side of the Bed – Acting cranky. Dating back to the Romans, it was believed that waking into a house left foot first or putting on your left shoe first resulted in bad luck. The same was believed about waking up on the left or “wrong” side of the bed. In this case, waking up on the right side of the bed is literally the “right” side of the bed.
  • Sleep Like a LogTo sleep soundly and quietly; not tossing and turning. Dating back to 1883 from the classic Treasure Island “I slept like a log of wood.”
  • Sleep like a Baby To sleep soundly, untroubled by worries. Any mother will tell you this is a joke. Most babies cry and wake up every few hours, especially in their cribs. Sleeping like a log sounds more reasonable.
  • Politics Make Strange Bedfellows Enemies forced by circumstances to work together. We can thank Shakespeare (not Monica Lewinsky) for this one. “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows,” from The Tempest is most likely its origin. In 1849, Edward Bulwer-Lytton adapted “Poverty has strange bedfellows” for his novel, The Caxtons. About a year later, his phrase turned up as “Politics makes strange bedfellows,” written by Charles Dudley Warner, also known as the co-author The Gilded Age with Mark Twain.
  • Go to the MattressesPrepare for battle or adopt a warlike stance. The least common phrase, but most Americans know it from The Godfather when Sonny said, “You give ‘em one message: I want Sollozzo. If not, it’s all-out war: we go to the mattresses.” It originated in 1530 from a soldier who was delegated to defend the city of Florence, Italy; he hung mattresses on the outside of the tower to minimize damage from cannon fire. Subsequently, it was also used in the HBO series, The Sopranos.


Contributor: Greg Longmuir