What does the word stand mean in this phrase?

3 Answers 3


From NOAD:

one-night stand noun 1 informal (also one-nighter) a sexual relationship lasting only one night. • a person with whom one has such a relationship. 2 a single performance of a play or show in a particular place.

The etymology is from the "play or show" meaning and the word probably comes from "stand" used in the military sense, as a confrontation:

• an act of holding one's ground against or halting to resist an opposing force : Custer's legendary last stand

  • 3
    so, stand=fighting and sex is like a fighting? Yes. I see.
    – lovespring
    Commented May 7, 2011 at 13:46
  • 4
    @snooze: It is if you do it right. :)
    – Robusto
    Commented May 7, 2011 at 13:48
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    I thought it was from travelling shows/circuses and towns that were only worth a single night. so after a one night stand they were gone in the morning
    – mgb
    Commented May 7, 2011 at 15:10
  • Steven King's The Stand
    – mplungjan
    Commented May 7, 2011 at 16:16
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    @Martin Beckett: See the part where I say 'The etymology is from the "play or show" meaning'.
    – Robusto
    Commented May 7, 2011 at 16:20

The OED says s.v. "stand":

e. Theatr. Each of the halts made on a tour to give performances; the place at which a halt is made; the performance itself; transf., esp. in one-night stand n. at one-night adj. Special uses.

So the "stand" is the stopping place on a theatrical tour. The one-night stand is a place where the show is performed for only one night. Nothing to do with fighting.

  • I have to say, your answer is more clear. But I have marked my answer.
    – lovespring
    Commented May 8, 2011 at 4:49
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    @lovespring: You can un-accept the original answer and mark this one, if you so wish. Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 3:57
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    "One-night stand" was at one time a common phrase among performers for such a one-day performance stop. The term was appropriated to a sexual context, comparing it to such a performance. (I don't know if performers still use the term or if it is now so totally associated with sex that it would be misunderstood.)
    – Jay
    Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 6:21

The participants in a 'one-night stand' usually not know each other and have no intention or expectation of a relationship to come out of it.

'Stand' here is also used to describe the relationship, if any, as 'The relationship only stands for one night'.

  • 1
    I was always under the impression that the "stand" is equivalent to being "stood up" for any further activity. Commented May 7, 2011 at 16:57
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    It is possible that the "stand" is understood to have one of those meanings, but I have never understood it so, and it pretty clearly wasn't in the origin.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented May 8, 2011 at 0:36

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