What Does To Catch Forty Winks Mean?

Catch Forty Winks Meaning

Definition: To take a brief nap.

The phrase to catch forty winks means to take a short nap. It is not normally used when talking about sleeping through the night.

This idiom first became popular during the 19th century and originated in Britain. A slight variation of this phrase, to take forty winks, still carries the same meaning.

Origin of To Catch Forty Winks

meaning of 40 winksThis phrase is related to the Thirty-nine Articles, written by the Church of England in the 16th century. These articles established rules that prospective clergymen had to accept prior to being ordained, and they were considered tedious to read.

Some books on English idioms claim that the phrase forty winks was used as early as 1820. However, the first recorded use of the phrase did not appear until later, in an 1872 edition of Punch Magazine,

  • If a man, after reading the Thirty-nine Articles, were to take forty winks…

It is unclear how the phrase evolved from take forty winks to catch forty winks. Even today, people use take forty winks and catch forty winks interchangeably. Although each phrase uses a different verb, the meaning of both phrases is the same.

Examples of To Catch Forty Winks

define catching 40 winksThis idiom is most commonly used to refer to taking short naps, especially during the day or before an event. It is not typically used to mean sleeping through the night.

A sample conversation between two friends illustrates the correct use of this idiom.

Roy: What are you up to this evening?

Stephen: Not much. I’m pretty tired, so I’ll probably go home and try to catch forty winks before the game starts.

More Examples

  • A common sight around the palace was the pale, worn earl trudging back to his rooms to catch forty winks at sunrise. –The Washington Post
  • This unofficial holiday encourages you to catch forty winks and enjoy the health and productivity benefits of napping. –The Huffington Post


The English idiom to catch forty winks means to take a brief nap. The similar phrase to take forty winks has the same meaning.