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May 08, 2020  |  Friday words #219  |  391 hit(s)

For new-to-me terms, I don't usually list words whose meaning seems sort of self-evident. But this one amused me, and maybe it's not that self-evident.

The term is sleep divorce. Whatever we might think about how couples do or don't have independent interests and hobbies and lives, the default assumption in our culture is, I believe, that married couples sleep in the same bed. Why else do people have queen and king and even California king beds, if not to share?

But the sleeping habits of one person can have a negative effect on another. Different schedules? Snoring? Restlessness? Different temperature preferences? Your partner "wakes you up with nocturnal needs"?

So the idea has arisen that perhaps couples should sleep separately. Or as the term goes, they should undergo a sleep divorce. According to a survey commissioned by a sleep-products company (perhaps not perfectly unbiased?), 39% of couples would prefer sleeping separately. Apparently sleep divorce can mean just separate beds, or it can also mean—and this seems like it would be most effective—sleeping in separate rooms.

As far as I can tell, the term sleep divorce goes back at least as far back as 2013. It might go back further, but my casual research hasn't turned up any earlier cites.

Anyway, I'm not here for marital counseling, just words. So I'll let you sort out your sleeping arrangements with your partner, and good luck to you.

My origins quest today was piqued when a coworker was talking about her chickens. One of them, she said, was a bantam. I knew that bantam referred to small things, like a small chicken, and that it's a weight class for boxing. (Technically, that's called bantamweight, all one word.)

But why do we call small things bantam? The word turns out to be a toponym: a word based on the name of a place. Banten is a city on the island of Java in Indonesia; another rendering of the name was Bantam. It's not clear where the name originally came from; perhaps from one of the indigenous languages on the island.

The word started out as referring to a breed of chicken, a usage that's of course still current. The theory is that sailors picked up these "bantam" chickens when making port in Java. (Though the breed itself might have originated elsewhere.)

By the 18th century, the word bantam had developed its metaphoric sense of "small," with overtones of "cocky," as in, acting in the manner of a rooster. Boxing adopted bantamweight as a weight class in the late 1800s.

I've always been partial to the idea of someone or something that's small but that doesn't let this be an impediment to them. Surely bantam chickens exemplify this characteristic, so I'm happy to know how they got their name.

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