things which go bump in the night

Discussion in 'English Only' started by susanna76, Dec 16, 2011.

  1. susanna76 Senior Member

    Hi there,

    What does "things which go bump in the night" refer to? How is "bump" used in this phrase?

    I don't have much context. It was spoken by narrator Mary Alice in Desperate Housewives, at the end of an episode. She was talking about "moment of dread" "when we ask ourselves" various questions. One of them was, "Are there things which go bump in the night?" I'm thinking this refers to Juanita's fear of a killer on the prowl, putting her in danger. (The girl saw a horror movie and then was certain she saw the killer in real life. Then later in the episode, her mother Gabby saw someone through the window too.)

    Last edited: Dec 16, 2011
  2. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    This is a part of a verse, traditional in the British Isles, though I'm not sure of who first said it:

    From ghoulies and ghosties, and long-legged beasties,
    And things that go bump in the night,
    Protect us, O Lord,
    And from the fury of the Northmen, deliver us.

    That should give you as much context as I have for precisely what 'bump' means. It's familiar in this phrase, and we guess what sort of bumping to fear . . .
  3. susanna76 Senior Member

    Hm. What an unusual piece of poetry. I see this is a Scottish prayer. Or Irish.
    Apparently this prayer was actually invented by the Catholic Church.
    I found it quoted and discussed in a book called
    Irish Tales: A Collection of Irish Folklore from Mary Dunne Ware of Fitchburg, Massachusetts
    by Edward C. McManus

    It only mentions the Northmen though. Doesn't say what "things that go bump in the night" might be.
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2011
  4. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    That's the same book I got it from. :) I needed to check the exact text, preferably from a source that reliably gave its origin, and that was the first hit on Google Books that wasn't merely quoting bits in passing - as you know. But I can't say it struck me as reliable: I would want more evidence for its origin. That's why I hedged my bets and mumbled about the British Isles.

    Surely the point is, if you hear the noise "bump" in the night, and can't identify it, it's more to be feared? :)
  5. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Here's what the OED says about "things that go bump in the night" (I've included the first two citations):
    (PS. I hadn't heard the version with "Northmen" before; I imagine it's a reference to Norsemen/Vikings...?)
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2011
  6. Enquiring Mind

    Enquiring Mind Senior Member

    UK/Česká republika
    English - the Queen's
    It sounds quite informal and maybe vaguely humorous. It can be used to describe an unexplained noise during the night, like footsteps, a book falling to the floor, someone banging their arm against something, when there's no obvious reason (everyone else is asleep, or there's no-one else in the house). It could be a euphemism for a ghost, any unexplained bumping noise which frightens us, because we don't understand the cause of the noise. (Of course, the noise could simply be metal pipes or wood contracting or expanding in reaction to heat or cold.)
    The phrase, when spoken, also has a pleasing poetic rhythm: things that go bump in the night.

    "How is "bump" used in this phrase?" To "go bump" means to make a noise like a bump. Cats go "miaow", dogs go "woof woof", cows go "moo"'.
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2011
  7. susanna76 Senior Member

    Right, so inanimate things going bump would cause fear. Fear of those "ghosts or supernatural beings" Loob referred to.
    I didn't get at first that "going bump" was making that noise. I thought it meant things might bump into each other, which, even for ghosts, was a bit imaginative:).
    My thanks to all of you!
  8. se16teddy

    se16teddy Senior Member

    London but from Yorkshire
    English - England

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