As all keen gardeners know, at this time of year we start thinking about putting the garden to bed. In other words, uprooting dead plants, clearing away fallen leaves, protecting any vulnerable plants which might not survive the winter chills unaided, giving the lawn its final cut, and cleaning and putting away any tools which will not be needed again until the spring.
It occurred to me yet again, as I thought about this expression, what a useful verb put is! It means nothing on its own – you can’t simply say, for example, I put the lamp. You need some sort of particle or phrase for the verb to have a meaning. You can put the lamp on or put it off or put it on the table, and so on, but you can’t simply put it!
As well as putting the garden to bed, we can put a child to bed. This expression means exactly what it says.
We can also talk about putting a project to bed, meaning either to complete it or to have finished the final preparations for it.
We put Project A to bed last month, so we’re now working on Project B.
It also struck me that we could easily confuse the idea of putting to bed with putting to sleep, with potentially confusing or even disastrous consequences!
We need to be very careful when we talk about putting someone/something to sleep. If I say I put the baby to sleep by singing a lullaby, this means literally what it says: I sang to the baby to help it fall asleep.
However, consider these other examples:
The dentist put me to sleep before extracting the tooth. (=gave me a general anaesthetic)
(Here, we can also say:The dentist put me under before extracting the tooth. (=gave me a general anaesthetic))
The consultant put my arm to sleep before resetting the broken bone. (=gave me a local anaesthetic)
We were all very upset when we had to have our old dog put to sleep. (=humanely killed by the vet)
Those Economics lectures always put me to sleep. (=I find them extremely boring)
We also need to be careful with putting something to rest. In this case it has nothing to do with bed or sleeping. It simply means that you want to stop dealing with something and not have to think about it any longer.
It’s time to put all our old disagreements to rest and try to work positively together.
And while we’re on the subject of put, it will soon be time to put the clocks forward again, so don’t be caught out and end up getting up an hour too early! Enjoy that extra hour in your nice, warm bed!
How many useful idioms or expressions involving put do you know? Add one to the comments below!