Sunday, November 22, 2015

Apple #721: The Wrong Side of the Bed

For quite a while now, I've been getting up on the wrong side of the bed.  I mean that metaphorically.  As the old saying goes.

But where does that saying come from?  And just what is the wrong side of the bed, anyway?

  • Well. As with most sayings and customs that have been passed around with no attribution whatsoever, 1) nobody is really sure where it comes from and 2) there are a lot of ideas out there presented as fact which are a lot of hogwash.
      • hogwash - kitchen swill, or slops fed to pigs (not the disgusting remnants left over after washing a hog), or in general, the refuse from a kitchen or brewery. Later, an insult referring to cheap liquor.  Still later, an insult referring to "inferior writing."

Not actual hogwash. Or if you like, a metaphorical demonstration of hogwash, in the sense that it is inaccurate.
(Image from Lifevine's Blog)

Actual, for real & for true hogwash.
(Photo of a bucket of pig slop, as ferried on the back of a man's bicycle in China from Waffles & Steel)

  • Back to the wrong side of the bed.  The saying means you wake up grumpy for no apparent reason, so you might as well explain it by saying you got up on the wrong side of the bed.
      • (I haven't been waking up grumpy, I've been waking up out of sorts, unhappy, sometimes downright inconsolable. But this makes about as much sense as being grumpy due to getting up on the wrong side of the bed, so I'll just say I've been getting up on the wrong side of the bed.)

This for sure would be the wrong side of the bed.
(Sourced from SlideShare)

  • Some recent news articles refer to a mysterious "study" conducted by Sealy UK (you know, the people who make mattresses).  I've looked at Sealy's website and their blog where they publish little press releases about the results of their "research," and I don't see anything on either site about this "study."  But let's pretend that it was published, and let's pretend that it was done with at least a modicum of scientific rigor.
  • According to this mysterious "study," Sealy UK found that in the case of couples who sleep together, there really is a "right" and "wrong" side of the bed.  That is, the person who sleeps (and therefore wakes up) on the left side of the bed is 10% more likely to have a positive outlook on life, and to be 8% more likely to enjoy their job.  The person who sleeps on the right side of the bed is, as you might therefore expect, more pessimistic and more likely to dislike his or her job.
  • This ephemeral study further says that for those who are not in a relationship, if they don't have many friends, they sleep on the right side of the bed.  Those not in a relationship who do have a large circle of friends sleep on the left side of the bed.
  • My big question which goes unanswered in the articles that quote this ethereal study is which side of the bed is the left and which is the right?  The left as you face the bed, or the left as you're lying down in it?  I suppose, since we're talking about sleeping in the bed and getting up from the bed, it would be the left as you're lying down in the bed.  But we need to know these details.  Otherwise, how will we rescue ourselves from pessimistic loneliness, since apparently all it takes is sleeping on the other side of the bed?
      • In case you can't tell, I have more than a healthy dose of skepticism about this so-called study and its purported results.

This kid got up on the wrong side, and is skeptical of everything besides.
(Photo from The[Robert]D.)

Our conventional wisdom about the wrong side of the bed says it's on the left.  Is that what this photo is saying, or not?
(Photo from Reinventing the Event Horizon)

  • If this "study" of Sealy's is correct, it flies in the face of centuries of commonly-held wisdom about what is the wrong side of the bed.
    • A lot of other sources on ye olde internette claim that the wrong side of the bed is the left side.  These hogwash purveyors say that the reason we have this phrase at all is because for a long time we -- or perhaps it was ye olde Romans, since some say this phrase is as old as the Roman Empire [we are awash in gallons of hogwash here] -- were very superstitious about anything left-handed.  The thinking here is that, since people used to be terrified of the lefties, if someone was plagued by mysterious bogeymen throughout their day, then it must have been that they got up on the cursed left side of the bed.  Or at least, that's what those silly superstitious people used to think, way back in the day.

[Cue the buckets of hogwash here.]

  • Other sources don't try to stake out which side of the bed is the bad side, or why, only that those silly people long ago thought that there were ghouls or demons lurking under one side of the bed, and they infected you as you arose from your slumber. So you spent your day fighting off the grumpy-making demons, and your day was screwed.
  • Now, there might seem to be some logic to the idea that the wrong side of the bed would be the left side.  Because the word wrong does mean the opposite of right. However, wrong's oppositeness to right is in the sense where right means moral, just, fair, etc.
  • Digging further into the opposites, etymologically speaking, the word right does not have anything to do with the right-hand side, but rather it means straight or even (it comes from the Latin rectus).  Wrong does not come from any word having to do with the left-hand side, but rather it means crooked, not straight.  A wrong, for example, could mean an unjust thing done to another person, but it could more concretely mean the crooked branch of a tree, or the curved rib of a ship.
  • So, making the claim that there is some etymological reason why the wrong side of the bed would be the left-hand side would be, er, wrong.
  • Further, those who say the phrase dates back to Roman times are also (say it with me) wrong.  The OED, the reference book that has been one of my dearest loves for decades, says that the first recorded published instance of the phrase "the wrong side of the bed" is from 1801.  Let me give it to you in all its finest OED detail:
To get up or out of bed (on) the wrong side, with allusion to the supposed disturbing effect on one's temper. colloq.
1801 Marvellous Love-Story I, 167 You have got up on the wrong side this morning, George. 

The OED. This may be my desert-island book--if I'm allowed to bring both volumes.
The Compact Edition of The Oxford English Dictionary, Complete Text Reproduced Micrographically (in slipcase with reading glass) (v. 1-20)

  • Other examples from later dates follow, but there you have it. First published usage is from 1801. Don't you think, if this phrase dated back to Roman times, there might have been another published instance of it before 1801?
  • What the incomparable OED does not tell us is why this phrase exists, what gave rise to it.  And that's really what we want to know.
  • I suspect that the reason we don't have a definitive source from which this phrase springs, or a particular reason for its existence lies within the nature of the phrase itself.  I believe what the phrase initially intends to express goes, in long form, something like this: 
Geez, George, you're in a bad mood, and it looks totally random and out of the blue as far as I can tell. You're acting like you just woke up this way, that it's got nothing to do with anything happening around you, you're just plain cranky today.  That makes no sense, really, so what put you in the bad mood to begin with must be something that makes about as much as sense -- like getting up on the wrong side of the bed. 
  • Looking for an explanation of the phrase might make about as much sense as looking for an explanation for the bad mood.  You'll find it on the wrong side of the bed.  Wherever that is.
  • As far as whether or not this entire blog post is hogwash, in the "inferior writing" sense of the term, I leave that to you to decide.

New Zealand Herald, Left side of bed may be the 'right' side for best sleep, November 22, 2015
Daily Mail, Woken up grumpy? It really could be because you got out of bed the wrong side (and we FINALLY know which side that is), November 21, 2015
Sealy Blog, Sleep Research
Grammar-Monster, What Is the Origin of the Saying "To Get Out the Wrong Side of the Bed"?
Bloomsbury International, Get up on the wrong side of the bed
Woman's Day, The Origins of 12 Common Idioms, August 10, 2009
Ask Men, Weird Expressions & Their Origins - Part 4

Online Etymology Dictionary, wrong, hogwash 
World Wide Words, Wrong side of the bed
The Compact Edition of The Oxford English Dictionary, Complete Text Reproduced Micrographically (in slipcase with reading glass) (v. 1-20)