many a word ~ a quirk of speech

Credit: Library of Congress Photo Collection, 1840-2000/

Man is no mushroom growth of yesterday.
His roots strike deep into the hallow’d mould
Of the dead centuries; ordinances old
Govern us, whether gladly we obey
Or vainly struggle to resist their sway:

Our thoughts by ancient thinkers are controll’d,
And many a word in which our thoughts are told
Was coined long since in regions far away.
The strong-soul’d nations, destin’d to be great,
Honour their sires and reverence the Past;
They cherish and improve their heritage.
The weak, in blind self trust or headlong rage,
The olden time’s transmitted treasure cast
Behind them, and bemoan their loss too late.

~ John Kells Ingram
(Sonnets & Other Poems)

The things we think and say and do. We don’t grow up in a vacuum, our parents teach us many things, either by word or example. Their parents taught them, too. Messages and mannerisms get passed down through the generations, often without awareness. Subconsciously we just know and do.

When we were getting tucked into bed as children, our mother would tell us to sleep tight and wish us sweet dreams. Who was the first mother who used this expression? At the end of one of the last phone calls I had with my mother before she died, she said “sleep tight” instead of “good-bye.” I hadn’t heard her say that in years, although I was saying it often to my own children at bedtime.

The “tight” in “sleep tight,” meaning “sleep soundly,” almost certainly comes from the use of “tight” and “tightly” to mean “soundly, securely, properly,” a use that dates back to Shakespeare. The phrase “sleep tight” also first appeared in the mid-19th century.
(The Word Detective, August 14, 2008)

Although I may not agree with all the sentiments in John Kells Ingram’s poem, I do love the idea that “many a word in which our thoughts are told was coined long since in regions far away.” It reminds me of a quote I like even better, which I shared in a post seven years ago.

We all grow up with the weight of history on us. Our ancestors dwell in the attics of our brains as they do in the spiraling chains of knowledge hidden in every cell of our bodies. These spirits form our lives, and they may reveal themselves in mere trivialities – a quirk of speech, a way of folding a shirt. From the earliest days of my life, I encountered the past at every turn, in every season.
~ Shirley Abbott
(Womenfolks: Growing Up Down South)

8 thoughts on “many a word ~ a quirk of speech”

  1. Both quotes are thought-provoking, but I must admit, I prefer the Abbott quote. 🙂 Either way, my heart leaped when I read about your mom and her ‘sleep tight’ words to you. Sweet and nostalgic, as she used those words to you as a child, and they popped up in her mind as she was about to sleep into another place. I read somewhere that the expression “sleep tight” came from the times when mattresses were kept together tightly by ropes underneath; if the ropes were pulled tightly, the mattress was much more comfortable. Thus, you would “sleep tight.”

    1. I’ve seen that explanation about the ropes underneath the mattresses, too. I was surprised when I did a quick search online and found the Shakespeare theory and an argument against the rope bed idea. Who knows?

      My heart leaped, too, when my mother softly said to slept tight that night. It felt like a big warm dose of motherly love and the memory has remained with me all these years. It was a wonderful and lasting gift. Thank you so much for leaving such a beautiful thought, Pam. *hugs*

      1. I got goose bumps when I read about your mom saying “sleep tight.” Even in my mom’s dementia now, when she’s not quite sure who I am, suddenly a light comes in her eyes and she says, “Hi Sweetie.” Wham. I’m full of gratefulness. <3

        1. It’s wonderful how even when sick or dying, mothers still find ways to nurture and reassure their children with gestures of love. I understand how grateful you are when that light of recognition comes into your mother’s eyes. It was the same way with my grandmother. ♡

  2. I especially liked your “sleep tight” story here, Barbara, like Pam (above). My parents used these words for us when we went to sleep, and I still say it too. Enjoyed thinking about this today, thank you.

    1. It’s amazing how universal the expression “sleep tight” is, but when we’re little we feel special and loved, even though the words themselves don’t seem to make a lot of sense. Only later does it dawn on us that our parents weren’t the first to use them. 🙂 Thanks so much, Jet, for stopping by today.

  3. I love that “sleep tight” phrase. So sweet that your mother said that to you before she died. I don’t think of the ancestors as much as you perhaps do, but you bring to mind the chain of connection which binds the generations. So wonderful that you have grandchildren winging into the future from your bones and eyes and breath.

    1. People are interested in so many different things ~ it amazes me how someone will spend her whole life studying one insect or plant. Others will explore many different fields of knowledge. I do spend time telling my grandchildren about their great-grandparents and my daughter tells me she loves that I do it. 🙂

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