The baby has been down for 3 hours.

I found this expression in the language teaching book and it says the meaning is sleeping, but I think this is not a popular expression. Is it?

  • Why do you think it’s not common? If you are a learner why wouldn’t you trust your textbook? This is a very common informal expression. It was when my kids were little (more than 15 years ago) and it still is nowadays. Another example: “I’ve had a bad day babysitting Lenny. He was so excited it took me ages to get him to go down. Eventually he dropped off on the lounge room floor. He’s been down for three hours - should I wake him up now?” – Orbital Aussie Jan 11 '20 at 20:29
  • Heh! In the second Ghost Busters movie, Sigourney Weaver asks Bill Murray to "put the baby down." To which he responds "You're ugly. You smell bad. And you're a terrible burden on your poor mother." I'm not sure anybody in the theater got the joke. It means "in the crib." But it's losing popularity. – puppetsock Jan 11 '20 at 20:59
  • youtube.com/watch?v=X4FNXjsETOE Here are the steps for "how to put an infant down for a nap." Meaning, get the kid to go to sleep for a time in a crib. – puppetsock Jan 11 '20 at 21:02
  • Does anyone else find it odd that the idiom "to put down" (meaning to place an infant in a position to nap) is the same as the idiom to euthanize an animal? – user105719 Jan 12 '20 at 3:35

In this case “down” most likely means “lying in a relatively low position, like in a bed, in a crib, even in the floor.

Down has many meanings, like “depressed” (but babies are usually not depressed), “destroyed” (there was a gunfight until the shooter was down), it might mean “on the ground floor” and many other meanings.

The “ghost busters” joke: “putting someone down” also means “insulting them”.


Talking about putting a child "down" does indeed mean that the adult has forced/coerced the child to sleep.

Is this common? Yes, very, at least where I am (west coast USA).

If this doesn't sound common to you, it is probably because this use of the word "down" is used almost exclusively for children. This can also be used with adults, but it has a very different connotation, in which the connection with sleep is used as a euphemism for unconsciousness, ie "the fighter was down for the count."

  • This is an unexpected answer in terms of its use of “forced/coerced”. Rarely would the parents, grandparents or other carers involved describe their role in “getting the child off to sleep” in such aggressive terms. – Orbital Aussie Jan 12 '20 at 3:00
  • @OrbitalAussie You've been a rather lucky parent if you never had to bribe or force your child into nap time! – Michael W. Jan 12 '20 at 3:30
  • Lull, cajole and pacify but never force. Not just because aggression is the always the wrong approach with vulnerable children, but also because it simply won’t work. This is only an opinion - happy for others to have different opinions. – Orbital Aussie Jan 12 '20 at 13:02
  • @OrbitalAussie You're using the wrong definition of force. Try "make (someone) do something against their will." – Michael W. Jan 13 '20 at 4:05

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