People nod in agreement, but a secondary use of the word describes falling asleep. A child who is in the land of Nod is for all practical purposes completely asleep, although that little head might be fighting sleep with gentle nods every now and then.
The phrase itself is both charming and mysterious enough that it has found its way into children’s storybooks and songs as well as into a famous poem by Robert Louis Stevenson of the same title. Eugene Field’s poem "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod" has been set to music by a wide range of performers, including Donovan and the Doobie Brothers.
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This magical land of dreams might sound like a sweet, safe world, but it has a dark history. This idiom goes all the way back to the Old Testament. References to Nod are found in the Book of Genesis. It is specifically located east of Eden.
According to the passage in Genesis 4:16, the land of Nod became home to Cain after he murdered his brother, Able. God banished Cain to Nod. The fact that it is geographically pinpointed to the east of Eden, a world in which all things are done for man and there is no misery, indicates that Cain was banished from a more comfortable world to one in which he would suffer.
How this negative reference transformed into a positive one is unknown. Loving parents would not create fairy tales and bedtime stories containing this reference if they meant the original land of Nod. Whether the land referred to in the idiom developed out of the biblical reference or came into being on its own, these words have come to be associated with falling asleep.
English is a language rich with idioms. In daily communication, in the professional arena, and even in literature and academia, idioms are used to express complex ideas in a handful of words. New idioms enter the linguistic stream as speakers hear and use them, and older idioms may drop into obscurity as fewer and fewer users reference them. Some, however, remain, even as their obvious meanings fade.
English speakers who understand the meanings behind the thousands of English idioms are better able to express themselves and understand others. Oftentimes, idioms are readily understandable, even to those who have not heard them before. More obscure idioms, such as the land of Nod, must be understood in context or explained.