I stumbled upon one of Wallace Stevens' letters, dated to 1909, where he describes a Sunday walk. I'm intentionally quoting quite a bit of this text, to give the full context (You can read it here; bold added):

"I am quite shattered by the walk I took yesterday - not less than thirty miles. [...] Yet it was, as you say, such a glorious day [...] I passed a camp [... where] they were broiling ham. [...] I did respond to that sugarey fragnance [...] You know - when you camp in wild places - and come in at the end of the day, you always find venison over the fire, or a dozen trouts - and then, there is the hot bread, and your pipe afterwards [...] and you fall asleep, so tired, so contented. [...] And when I reached home I was too dusty and worn out to write [...] I fell all over the bed in a hump. Next Sunday I hope to do the same thing.

It could be that I'm reading too much into it, but I couldn't find a satisfying definition for this usage of the word "hump" (Or the phrase "In a hump"). I'll paste here Merriam-Webster definition as an example:

Definition of hump

1 : a rounded protuberance: such as

          a : humpback 1

          b : a fleshy protuberance on the back of an animal (such as a camel, bison, or whale)

          c (1) : mound, hummock (2) : mountain, range the Himalayan hump

2 British : a fit of depression or sulking

3 : a difficult, trying, or critical phase or obstacle —often used in the phrase over the hump

What does it mean, in this context?

  • What is the dictionary definition??
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Apr 22, 2018 at 22:12
  • @HotLicks, added
    – HeyJude
    Commented Apr 22, 2018 at 22:21
  • 2
    Sounds like "hump" has been used in a variant of "fell on the bed in a heap" as in all worn out and exhausted/ contented/ anxious (depending on the context) -- note too that poets and writers tend to make creative use of common and uncommon words @O.d Commented Apr 22, 2018 at 22:25
  • 1
    Think of the shape of a hump. Think of the shape of a small humpbacked bridge.
    – Tuffy
    Commented Apr 22, 2018 at 22:29
  • (CONTINUED). Now imagine the shape on the bed when someone has collapsed onto it in a disordered heap. That is what is meant.
    – Tuffy
    Commented Apr 22, 2018 at 22:32

1 Answer 1


What does in a hump mean, in this context?

From a 2008 article authored by a cancer patient:

"and when I found out the cancer had returned and that I needed chemo, I just fell in a hump on the floor" Santa Fe New Mexican

Ngram shows plentiful use of in a heap, zero use of in a hump as used in this question. I suspect hump here is a variant of heap as in your citation and mine. The cancer stricken patient may have been in the hump BrE: a fit of depression; an emotional slump. as she fell in a hump.

As in:

I fell in a hump, tired, exhausted and depressed.

And from hump etymology: wikipedia

Probably borrowed from Middle Low German hump (“heap, hill, stump”), or from Old Saxon *hump (“hill, heap, thick piece”)

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