big sleep: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘big sleep’ mean?

The idiom "big sleep" refers to the state of death or eternal rest, often used as a euphemism. It signifies the end of one's life, suggesting a peaceful and final slumber.

Idiom Explorer

Unraveling its Enigmatic Origins

The idiom "big sleep" is a common phrase in American English that is often used as a euphemism for death or the act of dying. It gained popularity through its usage in the 1939 crime novel "The Big Sleep" by Raymond Chandler, later made into a film in 1946.

Derived from the literal meaning of sleep as a state of unconsciousness in which individuals rest and revitalize their bodies, the idiom "big sleep" takes on a metaphorical meaning, referring to the final sleep or eternal rest that one experiences after death. This association can be traced back to ancient beliefs and cultural traditions that equated sleep with a temporary state of death.

I need to go to sleep now.

Further popularized by its use in detective fiction and film noir, the idiom "big sleep" creates an air of mystery and intrigue surrounding a character's demise, emphasizing the fatal consequences of their actions. It suggests that death is an inevitable outcome of the character's involvement in criminal activities.

While "big sleep" primarily connotes death, it also carries connotations of finality, peace, and release from worldly concerns. It often describes the death of individuals who had been suffering from prolonged illnesses or experiencing significant emotional turmoil. The idiom implies a sense of relief or deliverance from the struggles and burdens of life.

Although the origin and early usage of the idiom "big sleep" remain somewhat elusive, its association with death and its continued usage in literature and everyday language demonstrate its enduring popularity and cultural significance. Across time and various contexts, the idiom has served as a concise yet evocative expression to convey the ultimate and irreversible nature of death. Its usage underscores the universal human fascination with mortality and the profound mystery that surrounds the end of life.

Example usage

Examples of how the idiom "big sleep" can be used in a sentence include:

  • He peacefully entered the big sleep after a long and fulfilling life.
  • It was clear that the old dog was ready for the big sleep as his health rapidly declined.
  • She was found lying peacefully in bed, having quietly slipped into the big sleep during the night.

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