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Dressing the Bed Means Making the Bed

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Janet calls from Aiken, South Carolina, to say that her father used to ask Have you dressed your bed? meaning “Have you made your bed?” The word dress likely derives from Latin dirigere, meaning “to straighten” or “to guide,” the source of the English noun and verb address. Today dress has several meanings involving the idea of “arranging,” “preparing,” or “setting up,” found in such phrases as dress oneself, dress a salad, dress troops. In the past, the verb to dress was also used with reference to cultivating land or plants and even repairing a clock. In parts of the eastern United States, the phrase dress the table means “set the table,” and dress the bed fits into that traditional use of dress, both in parts of the U.S. as well as parts of the United Kingdom. In fact, the term dress clothes is sometimes used to mean “bedsheets.” This is part of a complete episode.

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