This is from a native speaker's show ellen and victoria (see:1:10-1:15)

Ellen: What do you sleep in at night?

Victoria: Heels.

I could not quite understand what she meant by her question. It just did not make sense. I looked up "sleep in" and verified that it means "getting up later than usual time in the morning". But then why does Ellen say "...at night?", because a "sleep in" is something that can only happen in the morning.

Another meaning is "to sleep in the workplace.", which again does not seem to make sense.

Finally, what is she really asking about by using the question word "What"? "What" does not make sense in terms of "getting up late". We don't ask anyone "what do you get up late?", do we?

So, is she asking about "What TV program" does she watch at her workplace that causes her to wake up later than usual the next morning?

  • I’m voting to close this question because it's a one-off "non-sequitor" / bizarre reply that doesn't really have anything to do with learning "normal, natural, idiomatic" English Commented Jul 10, 2023 at 19:44
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    @FumbleFingers It actually has something to do with learning English, because we are taught at school about phrasal verbs, and when we see a "verb" followed by a preposition, we have a tendency to consider it a phrasal verb. And when we look it up and find an entry in the dictionary like "sleep in", we make sure it is a phrasal verb and we try to understand the meaning focusing on that phrasal verb. And now, we understand that a phrasal verb in a dictionary might actually not be a phrasal verb, but simply a coincidental combination of the verb with a preposition that is just placed at the end.
    – Yunus
    Commented Jul 10, 2023 at 20:17
  • I think any non-native Anglophone who seriously aspires to learn how to understand this level of wordplay is simply bonkers! If you approached this question thinking that the phrasal verb to sleep in [late] was relevant to the joke, that simply proves the joke wasn't aimed at people like you. Commented Jul 10, 2023 at 20:22
  • ...and even if you did know the phrasal verb to sleep in, surely it should be obvious that What do you sleep late at night? is nonsense, so the phrasal verb can't be relevant. I stand by my closevote. Commented Jul 10, 2023 at 20:26
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    @FumbleFingers "transitory" Duh, yes, I meant transitive. Brain freeze. I suppose a transitory verb would be one that is only a verb for a short period of time and then becomes some other part of speech! And yes, good point, even if I had used the word I intended, "transitive", that still wouldn't have been correct. So double ungood.
    – Jay
    Commented Jul 11, 2023 at 20:30

2 Answers 2


The questioner is asking 'What do you wear when you sleep at night?' and an appropriate answer might be 'pyjamas', 'a nightdress', 'nothing', etc. The answer 'heels' (high-heeled shoes) is a joke.

If we talk about what someone does something in, we are generally talking about what relevant item of clothing that person wears when doing that thing.

What do you go running in? Trainers.

What do you sunbathe in? A bikini.

What will you get married in? A white dress.

  • The usual answer might be "a nightie" or "in the buff" but Victoria's answer "heels" is an unexpected reply that might keep the viewers' interest. It's a TV show. I did once house-share with a guy who went to bed wearing his shoes and company tie. He hated bathing too. Commented Jul 10, 2023 at 19:36
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    Worth noting that the context makes it clear the speaker is referring to clothing that the person is in, rather than the building/structure the activity performed in - the expected answer to "what do you sleep in?" isn't "a bed". Cheeky/unexpected answers to the three example questions could be "a gym", "a tanning bed", and "a church". Commented Jul 10, 2023 at 19:40

This is an interesting question because it brings up a curious fact of English.

If you say, "I slept in", that means, "I slept later than I usually do", or perhaps, "Later than most people do". Like if you normally get out of bed at 7:00 am but today you didn't get out of bed until 10:00 am, you might say, "I slept in."

But if you say, "I slept in my work clothes", you mean that you were wearing your work clothes when you went to sleep. (Like you were too tired to change into pajamas, perhaps.)

And in a third sense, if you say, "I slept in my car", you mean that you went to sleep in your car. As opposed to at home in bed where most people normally sleep.

In this case, the person asking the question is almost certainly think of sense number two: What do you wear when you sleep. Most people would say "pajamas" or "underwear" or "I sleep naked" or some such. The answer "heels" is a joke. It's an unexpected answer. To ruin the joke by explaining it further, most people don't wear shoes of any kind to bed, so saying what kind of shoes you wear is unexpected. Maybe I just have a dirty mind, but I take it to mean "high heels and nothing else".

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    Native Anglophones might chuckle at the cited wordplay, but I doubt any of them would think about the phrasal verb to sleep in here. The issue is purely to do with whether doing something in X means in location X or wearing X. Commented Jul 11, 2023 at 12:22
  • @FumbleFingers Oh, sorry if I wasn't clear. I didn't mean that a native speaker would think of "to sleep in" here, but rather that someone learning the language might be confused by it.
    – Jay
    Commented Jul 11, 2023 at 20:27

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