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night +‎ -man

Alternative forms[edit]


nightman (plural nightmen)

  1. (historical) A person whose job is cleaning cesspools or sewers, or emptying privies by night.
    • 1722, Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year, London: E. Nutt (etc.), p. 54,[1]
      That the Laystalls be removed as far as may be out of the City, and common Passages, and that no Nightman or other be suffered to empty a Vault into any Garden near about the City.
    • 1825, Robert Mudie, London and Londoners; or, A Second Judgment of “Babylon the Great”, London: H. Colburn, 2nd edition, 1836, p. 197,[2]
      Still [the rats] are an organized race, and can combine together for the purposes both of attack and defence; as the nightmen who clean the sewers and cesspools of Babylon often find. The travels of a nightman have never been published; but they would make a very curious book. As they worm their way along those dismal passages, they often find an army of rats drawn up to oppose their farther progress []
    • 1851, Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor, London: G. Woodfall & Son, Volume II, The Street-Folk, p. 193,[3]
      I have met with nightmen who have told me that there was “nothing particular” in the smell of the cesspools they were emptying; they “hardly perceived it.” One man said, “Why, it’s like the sort of stuff I’ve smelt in them ladies’ smelling-bottles.”
  2. A male night shift worker.
    • 1907, The Railroad Gazette, Volume 42, No. 14, 5 April, 1907, p. 482,[4]
      Most men who are of sufficient intelligence and moral character to make thoroughly satisfactory block signalmen will naturally seek a respite occasionally from such a confining routine, and if they cannot accomplish this without securing a substitute at their own expense they are under constant temptation to “change off”—the day man working for the nightman and the nightman for the day.
    • 1927, “Vandals,” Time, 11 December, 1927,[5]
      Doorman John Healy comes to work Sunday morning bringing a partly finished bottle of whiskey. He greets his colleague, George Tiernan, nightman, with the suggestion that they “kill the quart” before Mr. Tiernan goes home.
  3. A nightwatchman; a guard who works at night.