Learn English – the origin of the phrase “forty winks,” meaning a short nap


Inspired by the question How long is a 'wink'?, I did some work on the origin of the phrase forty winks. Though the OP at the wink question mentions the phrase, it does not ask about its origin. So I thought I'd ask the question here and post what I've found. I was able to find an antedating not mentioned by any of the usual phrase-dictionary suspects. The most accurate information I found elsewhere was from a post by Ken G in a discussion of the phrase at Wordwizard. Any other insights welcome.

Best Answer

William Kitchiner M.D. (1775–1827) was an optician, inventor of telescopes, amateur musician and exceptional cook. His name was a household word during the 19th century, and his Cook’s Oracle was a bestseller in England and America.


The phrase forty winks, meaning a short nap, can be traced back to Dr. Kitchiner's 1821 self-help guide, The Art of Invigorating and Prolonging Life. The phrase is mentioned in a November 1821 issue of the British Literary Chronicle, in a review of Kitchiner's book:

Sleep is a subject on which our author acknowledges his feelings are tremblingly alive; he is fond of a 'forty-winks' nap in an horizontal posture,' as the best preparative for any extraordinary exertion, either of body or mind.

Here is a clip from an 1822 copy of Kitchiner's book:


The use of quotes around a forty winks nap seems to indicate Kitchiner might have borrowed the phrase from elsewhere, but I can't find it in any form earlier than his use of it. Also, Kitchiner carefully footnotes other phrases and passages from different authors throughout his book.