As part of the Indiana University Bicentennial Project, the Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology has collaborated with the Wylie House Museum to host an Archaeological Fieldwork course for the month of June. Led by Archaeologist Liz Watts Malochous, IU students are learning archaeological field methods while searching for two buried garden beds from the second half of the 19th century. The investigation on the Wylie House Museum property utilizes correspondence, writings, photographs, and a memory map, paired with modern GIS and remote sensing technologies to identify the excavation area. The project hopes to deepen our understanding of the daily lives of the Wylie House residents, especially how their gardening practices exemplify a shift from earth 19th century subsistence farming in Bloomington to the development of agriculture and floriculture in the later 19th and early 20th century. For more details about that shift, visit IU student Maclaren Guthrie’s blog post .
This project contributes to the larger IU Bicentennial Project aimed at ensuring the protection of Indiana University’s cultural heritage. The front lawn of the 1835 Wylie House provides students an ideal historic archaeological site and an opportunity for community engagement with the class, so everyone can learn more about local Bloomington and IU history.
Featuring IU Student Humor Magazines from the Indiana University Archives
By: Rebecca Karstensen, Wylie House Museum Library Assistant
***DISCLAIMER*** Contains some crude and offensive humor. Discretion advised.
If you haven’t already, take a peek at part 1 of this blog where I provide a lighthearted background on the history of humor in the United States.
As part of the Indiana University Libraries, the Wylie House Museum can utilize the Indiana University Archives to conduct research. So, I thought it might be a fun adventure to look at some of IU’s old student humor magazines. I have selected three publications from three different magazine/newspaper series to share. I hope that these magazines will provide some unexpected insight into the style, quality, and historical significance of the jokes contained within.
For more info, visit the Indiana University Archives website. I’ve provided a link with each publication that leads directly to its archival webpage.
Here’s the lineup: I’ll give you a picture of each publication, some contextual stuff, then the funnies. Savvy?
Context: The Vagabond began in October of 1923, with a twofold objective: “the magazine offers a medium of expression for the literary life of campus; and it hopes to hasten a rebirth of science, art, and life at Indiana” (quoted from the first edition copy of Vagabond). The articles published in The Vagabond were satirical, risqué, and critical of the university, which often caused a stir in the campus community.
1926 was a peaceful year in the United States, other than the Great Miami Hurricane, the death of Harry Houdini, and the introduction of the first SAT college admissions test. The First World War was long over, the union was in a state of rest, and the Great Depression wouldn’t start until 1929. In his State of the Union Address on December 7, 1926, President Calvin Coolidge states:
“In reporting to the Congress the state of the Union, I find it impossible to characterize it other than one of general peace and prosperity. In some quarters our diplomacy is vexed with difficult and as yet unsolved problems, but nowhere are we met with armed conflict. If some occupations and areas are not flourishing, in none does there remain any acute chronic depression. What the country requires is not so much new policies as a steady continuation of those which are already being crowned with such abundant success. It can not be too often repeated that in common with all the world we are engaged in liquidating the war.”
Matters at Indiana University were no more exciting. At that time 8,800 students were enrolled at IU, and based on the Indiana University faculty minutes from 1926, nothing noteworthy happened, despite the addition of the Eastern wing of the Second Library Building (now known as Franklin Hall). In fact, 1926 seemed to be an incredibly average year. Nonetheless, the Vagabond staff found plenty of things to criticize anyways.
Funny Highlights: This particular issue covers all the basics of our human existence: marriage, sex, women, war, education, family, friendship, and so on. The front and back of the book feature a few advertisements, including one for the “New Home Laundry Co.” whose catch phrase is “Not As Large As the Largest But As Good As the Best – Our Work is Proof of That”.
Many of The Vagabond’s pieces critique Indiana University–such as “Inbred Indiana” which discusses Indiana University’s habit of hiring alumni; however, there are plenty of other styles of humor represented here. For example, here’s a poem found in the back of the magazine:
Despair I saw her in the hall through murky dust, And stood transfixed by beauty undefiled. No glaring ray of light was there to mar That vision of an angel come to earth. Her skin of whiteness that outshone the ray Of wintry moon, betokened purity, While filmy garments, clinging, half-disclosed Her perfect breasts, her curves of innocence. I loved her at one glance, but ‘twas in vain’ Cold marble statues have no love for man. -Pourquoinot
Here’s an example of a pun:
Applicant: How much do I get for doing the weeping act in this show? Manager: Thirty-five cents an hour. Applicant: What? For crying out loud!
And another poem:
There was a good man from Calcutta, He talked with a terrible stutta; He screwed up his face When he tried to say grace And blew his false teeth in the butta. -Wisconsin Octopus
These more lighthearted pieces make up a small minority of this magazine’s content. So, to give a better idea of what style of humor The Vagabond focused on, here’s a small excerpt regarding yearbooks:
The Arbutus This is the annual record of faces mounted daintily on enamel paper and published to the great and vainglorious delight of one-half of the school and the disgust of the other half. The ten dollars each Junior is forced by the University to pay for a copy would approximately buy one book by Conrad, one by Cabell, one by France, one by Dreiser, and still leave fifty cents for a couple Whiz Bangs.
10 dollars in 1926 is worth about $137 in today’s money. That kind of money would cover the costs of all my textbooks, too, so I feel their pain. At least now we aren’t forced to buy a yearbook.
Selection: Greek Issue and Professor Issue, November 1948
Context:The Crimson Bull was launched in 1947 by the Indiana University chapter of Sigma Delta Chi, a men’s professional journalistic fraternity. This magazine was meant to replace the former Crimson Bull first published in 1920 at IU, which failed. It also provided humor after the Date humor magazine ended in 1947. The last known issue of this magazine was released in March 1956. Compared with The Vagabond, the satirical style of The Crimson Bull is much more lighthearted and goofy.
1948 saw some dramatic events, including the murder of Mahatma Gandhi, the declaration of Israel’s independence from British administration, and the creation of the World Health Organization and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. People born in this year include Prince Charles, Al Gore, Ozzy Osbourne, James Taylor, and Andrew Lloyd Weber. However, it was a relatively peaceful year for the United States. The Second World War had been over for almost 3 years and the Great Depression had been over for nearly 10 years.
At Indiana University, nothing extraordinary happened either. In the State of the University address on December 9, 1948, IU President Herman B. Wells stated, “The past year was one of constructive activity. The detailed reports of the schools and divisions of the University record the year’s achievements . . . I cannot even summarize them in the space of this statement . . .” There were 14,414 full-time and 8,717 part-time students for the 1948-49 school year, some of which were World War II Veterans. Overall, despite a $1,412,989 deficit of funds, IU was in a state of productivity and achievement.
Funny highlights:The Crimson Bull’s humor is definitely more crude and silly. I’ve chosen two 1948 magazines which were published as companions. I have one excerpt that I’d like to share from each of them.
The Crimson Bull writers had some strong feelings towards the Greek community at IU, which I find ironic considering the writers were members of a journalistic fraternity. There’s one excerpt from this issue that I think is captures the silly tone of the publication:
All Is Revealed . . . Beyond The Stone Façade “Ever since I saw ‘Cloak and Dagger,” I have wanted to do some undercover work. Be a real-life spy. Last week I finally got my chance. I was designated Special Operator 49, an espionage agent for the Crimson Bull. My assignment was to crack the Third Street Iron Curtain and find out what really goes on behind the stone façade of a sorority house. (Editor’s note: Just how Operator 49 arranged to get inside the house can’t be revealed now; it would cause too much unpleasantness for ourselves and a number of other persons who kidnapped the young lady whose place he took that afternoon.) Shortly after 3 p.m., I walked up the steps of the Sigma Epsilon Xi house on East Third. I adjusted my false front and rang the bell. Five beautiful girls greeted me as the door opened. They seemed a little surprised when they saw me, but managed to squeeze out an unhappy hello when I introduced myself. I quickly grasped the hand of the president of the house. It was so lovely I hated to let go. But she broke my grip and showed my inside. The girls didn’t waste any time trying to impress me. I found out later that my mother was supposed to have a vault that would make Uncle Sam’s Fort Knox look like a miniature wall safe. I gladly followed them to the upstairs lounge to play a few rubbers of bridge. I tried to talk them into another card game. They didn’t seem to care for the idea. I gave up the game for good when one of the girls started talking about clothes. ‘Oh this,’ she said, ‘I wear it to teas.’ I stumbled while moving in closer to ask whom and fell onto the lap of some pretty coed. I was just beginning to snuggle up comfortably when the rush chairman came in looking for me. After losing the argument, I got up and followed her on a tour of the house. Brother, the things I didn’t see! Did you know they make ladies unmentionables in six delicious colors? They took me into a small dressing room and offered to fix my hair. I didn’t dare remove my scarf, so I had to do some fast talking to get the girls to curl just the ends of my golden locks. The secretary told me that after I became an active I would have a private dressing room, but that during the short and pleasant pledge period, I would have to share my bedroom with several other girls-43, in fact. The idea appealed to me, but how could I live there sixteen weeks without having my identity discovered? They took me into the living room where they fed me a cup of bitter tea and some stale cookies. Guess they were trying to save on the house bill or something. The girls apparently had rehearsed for this visit, for one of them dashed over and began playing the piano. Six others crowded around and began singing “Oh Indiana.” But this broke up fast when I crawled atop the piano and sang a little number I know about rolling in the hay fields. Every time I looked around, a different shape went undulating by. This had a profound effect on me. I nervously looked around for the nearest rest room. I needed a nice quiet place to map out my plans for the rest of the evening. Once inside, I was resting comfortably, jotting down a note telling the editor I thought I’d remain for good, I had removed the scarf, hiked my dress above my knees, and was resting my aching feet, thinking just what I would do if they invited me to stay for the night. The door suddenly opened and the house mother was staring me in the face. I was trapped. What could I do? She just stood there, screaming at the top of her voice. I tried shoving a towel in her mouth. The towel wasn’t big enough. Within ten seconds every girl in the house was standing there, looking in at me. I felt like a caged animal. Several of the girls shrieked. Most giggled. A few looked at me longingly. Four big beefers pushed their way through the crowd, grabbed me by the arms and dragged me from the house. I waited in the shrubs until dark and slipped home quietly. I wanna go back . . . -RED LETTER
Please understand that the Wylie House Museum does not condone the disrespect of women. I chose this piece only to reflect the style of humor contained within the magazine and it does not, in any way, reflect the opinions of our museum.
I love the introduction in this issue, which is essentially a disclaimer that they are about to absolutely roast a bunch of professors. It ends thus:
“So here is your Professor Issue. It has been created in the spirit of malice towards none (to coin a phrase), and the hope of fun and laughs for all. Characters portrayed herein are real live persons, but don’t tell them about it. After all, we’d like to stick around and graduate.”
One might note that The Crimson Bull has more illustrations and cartoons that the Vagabond. Here’s a great one, entitled “An Illustrated Dissertation on I.U. Perfessors”
“Fraught with the wisdom of the ages, I.U.’s mighty line-up of perfessors cuts a striking picture as they mull and meditate over their morning coffee ~ here we have an excellent view of some of the sharper ones. . .
Touchingly human, our perfessors are actually frenzied in their attempts to always give the students a break on exam grades ~ the gentleman above is typical of those who work ’till the wee, late hours in their efforts to be ever sympathetic. . . But there must be a few spare moments, of course ~ and our perfessors always spend those moments pursuing intellectual relaxation.
Or a bit of brilliant, personal research, as this earnest chap in the Department of Chemistry is doing ~ who knows, he may come up with something astounding. . .
Justice ~ respect for the law ~ such qualities are virtually exuded by the stern, staid gentlemen of the Law School ~ this perfessor dotes on returning snitched articles. . .
Profound admiration for the masterpieces of the ages is constantly expressed by the Fine Arts perfessors. . .
And our perfessors of anatomy never fail to amaze classes with their perfectly prepared cadavers. . .”
These lighthearted jests towards the professors at IU must’ve been a great way for The Crimson Bull writers to relieve their frustrations as college students in a fun, non-threatening way.
PUBLICATION #3Fun City, 1952-1979
Selection: April 30, 1976, No. 25
Context: Here’s a quote from the IU archives discussing the creator of Fun City, Leon Varjian:
“Leon Varjian (1951-2015) was a graduate student at Indiana University from 1972-1975, known primarily for his comedic news publications such as Fun City and his organized antics on the IU campus. He ran for mayor of Bloomington in 1973 and IU Trustee in 1976, though his campaign platforms were nonsensical and humorous.”
He reminds me of Vermin Supreme.
1976 wasn’t a huge year, though several significant things happened. For example, Microsoft and Apple opened one year prior in 1975, and the South African apartheid began on June 16th. NASA unveiled their first space shuttle, Fidel Castro became president of Cuba, and the United States celebrated its Bicentennial. Jimmy Carter won the presidential election and the Winter Olympics took place in Austria.
At IU, once again, 1976 wasn’t a major year, though the men’s basketball team won the NCAA championship and the first discotheque opened in Bloomington. By then, there were 4 IU campuses: Bloomington, Fort Wayne, Northwest, and Southeast. Combined, these 4 campuses had 76,771 students enrolled.
Funny highlights: This magazine-style publication has some cheeky, definitely inappropriate humor in it. You’ve already seen this little piece on the cover of the newspaper, but my favorite excerpt is on the front page, titled the “Do-it-yourself divorce hush-up”.
Here’s the thing I want to share most, though, and I almost missed it when I read through this publication the first time. I’ll let it speak for itself:
I think the acronym that he made out of his name really makes this piece.
That’s all I have to share for now! Thank you so much for spending time reading this blog, and if you’d like to learn more about the relation between the Wylie House Museum and humor, please join us for a tour! The museum is open 10am-2pm Tuesday through Saturday.
By: Brett Roberts, Wylie House Museum Bicentennial Project Assistant
“IU is home” says the t-shirt adorned by thousands of freshmen Hoosiers this past fall. That phrase is relatable to many Indiana University students as we reflect on our time as undergraduates in Bloomington. Whether we lived in Briscoe or Wright, study business or music, we have all made Indiana University our home in some way. Within this community we call home, there is quite a bit to be proud of. The top ranked public school for music in the nation, the #4 undergraduate business school, the #1 school for public and environmental affairs. Not to mention the top ranked programs in psychology, folklore, opera, and much more. IU is home to 24 NCAA National Championship teams and 145 NCAA National Individual Champions, not to mention our nearly unrivaled success in the Big Ten. All of these things fill each Hoosier with pride to be a part of a storied institution of success.
However, none of this would have been possible without one man’s risk (and I’m not talking about Herman B Wells). His name was Andrew Wylie, the first President of Indiana University. In 1828, the Board of Trustees wrote Andrew, saying “under the guidance of so experienced and able an instructor, our institution will flourish and become a praise, and a glory, to our young and rising state.” This proposition was a daunting one for Andrew. Bloomington in 1828 was on the frontier of the young state of Indiana, which was very different from Andrew’s native Pennsylvania. It was an offer to build something out of nothing in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately for 200 years of proud Hoosiers, Andrew Wylie took the job.
From 1828 until 1895, Andrew Wylie and his cousin, Theophilus Wylie, played some of the most formative roles in the founding and sustaining of Indiana University. Their history and ideas of the university have been relatively unexplored for many years. Herman B Wells bought the Wylie House in 1947 and restored the house from 1960-1964 to rediscover this critical part of our past. The museum now includes the original library of Theophilus Wylie, countless letters from the Wylie family discussing the events in the university and of the day, as well as diaries and heirlooms from the family. Why does all of this matter today though?
As I began going through 200 year old books and letters, I often asked myself that very question: why does this matter? However, as I was going through the letters and diary entries that I read and reread multiple times, I found the untold story of the people that helped build the foundation of Indiana University. In one entry was Theophilus’ reaction to the second time the university burned down in 1883. Or Andrew’s thoughts on the state sending agents to ensure the university was doing its job. A personal favorite was Theophilus’ reactions to the state government chartering that school in West Lafayette. I found that these letters, books, and diaries all had a story that enrich the story and legacy of Indiana University.
The little university established on the frontier of a new nation in 1820 has grown into a world renowned center for research, performance, and teaching. Indiana University has been a catalyst of change for the betterment of Indiana, and the world. IU is home to some of the world’s brightest thinkers, leaders, and to all Hoosiers, past, present, and future. We owe all of this to the life and work of Andrew and Theophilus Wylie. When you think, “IU is home” or see the 5 NCAA Basketball Championship banners in Assembly Hall, or just simply stand in awe of one of America’s most beautiful college campuses, we hope you look back at these men and their formative role in the university you know and love today. As our Alma Mater today proclaims, “She’s the Pride of Indiana,” fulfilling the Board of Trustees’ vision in inviting Andrew Wylie to become president so many years ago.
By: Rebecca Karstensen, Wylie House Museum Library Assistant
I want to make you laugh today.
It’s April, which means we students are in the thick of our semester work, probably balancing a job, extra-curricular activities, friends, family, a grouchy landlord, or maybe even some mental health struggles. I get it, and I’m there in the struggle with you. If you aren’t a student, maybe you’re overwhelmed with work or family, or some other unexpected, joy-draining crisis. When did life become a great big toil fest?
I wrote this blog with the hope that it would bring some cheer and laughter to you, while still providing enough educational information that you don’t have to feel too guilty for taking a break to read it. After all, you’re learning something…right?
I think we can agree that there’s something about watching or experiencing something funny that makes us feel good.
Science backs up this feeling. According to this article from Huffington Post, laughter helps relieve stress and pain, boost your immune system, reduce blood pressure, stimulate your mind, and provide a good workout (around 50 calories burned for 10-15 minutes of laughter).
Want to improve your health and well-being? Just watch some vines or your favorite stand-up comedian and you’ll be on your way to bliss.
But, at least in the United States, humor had very little influence on our culture until about 100 years ago. Before that, laughing or even smiling too much was considered foolish and unintelligent. Even prominent humorists of the time, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson (pictured below), agreed with this sentiment.
While traveling through England in May of 1848, Emerson wrote to a friend regarding one of his newfound English acquaintances. He writes,
“The one thing odious to me now is joking . . . The day’s Englishman must have his joke, as duly as his bread. God grant me the noble companions whom I have left at home, who value merriment less, and virtues and powers more (emphasis added).”
Yikes. That scathing review could help to explain why people didn’t smile in photos during the 19th century. Check out this video for more on that:
Fortunately for us stressed-out, exhausted ‘mericans in need of a good laugh, that attitude began to change in the late 1800s, marked by the 1871 debut of the first successful humor magazine in the United States, Puck. Inspired by the British humor magazine—Punch–Puck was a fully colorized, cartoon-filled, German-language humor magazine that ran from 1871 to 1936.
After the apparent success of Puck, humor magazines began popping up everywhere, especially among universities. Yale was the first to release a student humor publication—the Yale Record. Harvard followed with their Harvard Lampoon in 1876, and Stanford joined the club later with their Stanford Chaparral in 1899. These student humor magazines became the foundation for American comedy to flourish. Harvard Lampoon, especially, published many of the jokes that we still chuckle about today. Here’s a classic example:
“Barber – ‘Have a hair cut, sir?’
Gentleman – ‘Thank you, thought of having several of them cut.’”
To me, it comes as no surprise that one of the first true American experiences with comedy came from university student-ran magazines. We college students understand the need to let off steam, and what better way to express our frustrations than to channel them into jokes? Nowadays, one of the most popular humor websites on the interwebs is none other than CollegeHumor, a comedy website that began as a student humor magazine.
Once people began to respect humor more, comedy took off in the United States, and it’s now integral to our culture. From satirists such as Stephen Colbert, to stand-up comedians like Kevin Hart, we Americans love comedy, and our tradition of student humor magazines marks a unique form of humor.
Theophilus A. Wylie was a faculty member at Indiana University between 1840 and 1885; he served as a professor of classical languages, chemistry, natural philosophy, and physics. He was also the first librarian, vice president, and interim president of Indiana University. Wylie’s publication record, however, does not suggest a scholar connected with the important scientific ideas of his day. Aside from a few isolated scientific articles in the American Journal of Science and the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Wylie was more interested in writing about local history and other topics meant for a popular audience (see a fuller discussion of Wylie’s publications in the Scholarly Communications section of the Wylie House Museum’s digital exhibits site).
Yet, a closer examination of Wylie’s personal library, preserved at the Wylie House Museum suggests the exact opposite. Wylie had a collection of about 700 books in his home (a full spreadsheet is available). Wylie also annotated his books, and the books he annotated the most, tell an interesting story.
Elements of Physics – Neil Arnott
Elemens de Calcul Differentiel et de Calcul Integral – J. L. Boucharlat
Elementary Treatise on Mechanics – John Farrar
Elements of Chemistry – Thomas Graham
Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy – John Frederick William Herschel
Treatise on Astronomy – John F. W. Herschel
Course of Mathematics – Charles Hutton
Elements of Chemistry – Robert Kane
Hand-Books of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy – Dionysius Lardner
Handbooks of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy – Dionysius Lardner
Lectures on the Wave-Theory of Light – Humphrey Lloyd
Treatise on Astronomy – Elias Loomis
Introduction to Astronomy and Introduction to Practical Astronomy designed as a Supplement to Olmsted’s Astronomy – Denison Olmsted and Ebenezer Porter Mason
Elementary Treatise on Curves, Functions, and Forces – Benjamin Peirce
First Principles of Chemistry for the Use of Colleges and Schools – Benjamin Silliman, Jr.
Treatise on Astronomy – H. N. Robinson
From this brief list, one can detect a pattern. Many of these were well-known and highly regarded British scientists and science writers (Humphrey Lloyd, John Herschel, Charles Hutton, Dionysius Lardner); some of them were well-known figures at the forefront of thinking in physics and astronomy (besides Herschel, the Americans Benjamin Pierce and Denison Olmsted). All of these scientists were involved not only in scientific research during the nineteenth-century, but also in scientific education and public organization. For instance, John Herschel was a leading light of British science through both his experimental researches, his methodological writings, his early leadership as a Cambridge undergraduate in the reform of British mathematics, and the foundation of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Also, Humphrey Lloyd was one of the founders of the British Association, later the British Association for the Advancement of Science. And Neil Arnott went on to be one of the founders of the University of London. Thus, Wylie’s engagement with his library shows that he was connected to some of the centers of scientific thinking, particularly in Britain, and that Wylie was interested in helping to create a system for the organization and teaching of science. This interest is not surprising since American professional scientific societies such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science and many universities were also undergoing significant changes during Wylie’s lifetime.
One can only speculate as to how Wylie became so acquainted with these figures. Wylie was good friends with Daniel Kirkwood, a famous astronomer, IU faculty member, long-term correspondent, and mentee of the astronomer and mathematician Benjamin Pierce at Harvard. Kirkwood and Pierce also participated together in events within the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Additionally, Wylie was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where the American Association for the Advancement of Science was founded, and Wylie was a correspondent with his fellow graduate John Fries Frazer, Provost at Penn. It is therefore possible that Wylie became acquainted with these figures through people like Kirkwood and Frazer who would have been at the center of scientific activity in the nineteenth century. Regardless, this small list of books alone, and the fact that Wylie was actively annotating and engaging with their ideas, demonstrate how Indiana University, through faculty members like Wylie, were quite active in the scientific debates happening at an important time during United States history. More research could help to discover how Indiana University’s leadership helped to shape science and education.
Here at the Wylie House Museum and at other house museum across the country, we docents love to share old stories and sayings that we’ve learned and acquired over the years. One of my personal favorite stories is the history of the saying “sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite”. The typical presentation of the story follows along these lines:
In the 1800s and early 1900s, mattresses were held on bed frames using a woven rope design. These ropes needed frequent tightening to ensure a taut, firm mattress for a good night’s sleep. Hence, the phrase “sleep tight” was born. The mattresses were often stuffed using straw, shredded corn husks, or down feathers. These materials attracted bed begs, and so over time it became a common phrase to say “sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite.”
Stories and myths like this one are very common among house museums. We love to leave visitors with new, exciting information that they can share with the rest of the world, and so it’s quite easy for false information to spread rapidly across the house museum community.
Such is the case with the story of sleeping tight.
To begin, I would like to confirm that rope beds did, in fact, need tightening, so my intention here is not to disprove this part of our story. If you’d like to learn more about the roping process, I would suggest this video or this article.
Rope beds were invented in the 16th century and fell out of fashion quickly after the invention of the coil spring mattress in 1865. Gary Martin’s research for The Phrase Finder has revealed that the first recorded use of the phrase “sleep tight” wasn’t until 1866 in Susan Bradford Eppes’s journal entitled Through Some Eventful Years. She writes on May 2, “Goodbye little Diary. ‘Sleep tight and wake bright,’ for I will need you when I return.” Therefore, the late use of this phrase in comparison to the invention of rope beds signals that it must have some other origin.
But, what could that origin be? Let’s take a look into the etymology (i.e. the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history) of the word ‘tight’. According to the Oxford dictionary, the closely related adverb ‘tightly’ can also mean ‘safely’ or ‘soundly’. Since it sounds a bit catchier and poetic to say two one-syllable words as “sleep tight” instead of the awkward 3-syllable “sleep tightly,” that might explain why the suffix –ly was dropped from the word.
In today’s culture, we have several other uses of the word ‘tight’ that support this new hypothesis of the history of ‘sleep tight’. For example, in American slang we say that we are ‘tight’ with someone to indicate that we are familiar with them or close with them. ‘Tight’ can also be synonymous with ‘snug’, such as when your pants are too tight after eating one too many gooey fudge brownies. When we settle in to bed each night, many people enjoy wrapping themselves up in the covers to experience this snuggly feeling that seems oppressive when referring to our jeans but cozy when it’s bedtime.
We like to feel safe and cozy during sleep (after all, we can’t control what happens in the world around us as we dream), so sleeping ‘tight’ probably relates more to those connotations of snugness and safety, especially in reference to security from bedbugs or other nighttime creatures. This idea seems more reasonable than the fact that the ropes on early beds needed to be tight to ensure a good fit. This argument also helps to explain why people used the phrase long after rope beds fell out of use.
The best part about historic house museums is that we get to continually learn and explore these new topics and share them with our guests! Do you have any other theories? Connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear what you have to say.
According to the Center for Food Safety, throughout the past 40 years, the U.S. has led a radical shift toward commercialization, consolidation, and control of seed. Prior to the start of industrial agriculture, there were thousands of seed companies and public breeding institutions. At present, the top 10 seed and chemical companies, with the majority stake owned by U.S. corporations, control 73 percent of the global market. Today less than 2 percent of Americans are farmers compared to 90 percent in 1810 (2012). Seed saving is crucial and the reason for crops every year. With the rise of modern agricultural practices, genetic crop diversity has declined. While seed saving may be a hobby to some, the saving and sharing of rare, heirloom, and native seeds has always been, and still is, an important part of our worldwide food security. In agriculture and gardening, seed saving is the practice of saving seeds or other reproductive material from vegetables, grain, herbs, and flowers for use from year to year for annuals and nuts, tree fruits, and berries for perennials and trees. This is the traditional way farms and gardens were maintained for the last 12,000 years (Wikipedia, 2017). Benefits of seed saving include: engaging in the cycle of life, preserving heirloom varieties, encouraging genetic diversity, and saving money. A few tips for storing seeds are: gather seeds and let them dry on newspaper for a few days. Mark seeds with a post-it-note so you remember what type of seed they are. Remember, if you want to save your own seeds, you’ll need to plant open-pollinated varieties. They’ll come back while hybrids won’t. Keep seed packets in plastic food storage bags, plastic film canisters, Mason jars with tight-fitting lids, or glass canisters. Once you’ve gotten your storing container, store in a cool and dry environment. Store each year’s seeds together and date them because most seeds last up to about three years.
This post was written by Sarah Kihn on October 25, 2017.