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I know it’s slang. But help me to find origin of crash at someone’s place

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    I've always assumed that you walk into a buddy's apartment drunk and literally crash on the couch. – Hot Licks Mar 12 at 23:37
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According to Green’s Dictionary of Slang “crash at/with” is a variant of “crash (out)” meaning to sleep, to collapse exhausted (1945) originally from the RN slang expression “crash the swede.”

crash (out) v. (originally from Royal Navy slang crash the swede, to sleep; as such it migrated first to Australia then to US and finally back to UK)

  1. to stay, to lodge, to board; thus crash at, to stay at; crash with, to stay with.

1968 - [US] N. von Hoffman We are the People Our Parents Warned Us Against 275: I don’t have a place to crash.

1970 - [US] Time 30 Mar. 10: A transient arrives looking for a place to crash.

1981 - [US] A.K. Shulman On the Stroll 226: I don’t have any place to stay and I wondered [...] if I could crash with you for a little while.

1999 - [UK] Indep. on Sun. Rev. 10 Oct. 67: He crashed at my apartment for a while.

From “A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English” by Eric Partridge: Crash the (one’s) swede:

to get one’s head down on the pillow: Royal Navy, lowerdeck; since ca. 1920:

  • Weekly Telegraph (25 Oct. 1944). A more violent version of the earlier army set the swede down. c.f. also the later crash down or simply crash.
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    I am not sure that helps: first you need to know why swede means head, and then the question is why use crash – Henry Mar 13 at 14:54
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Merriam Webster online gives two definitions of the term crash pad namely

1: protective padding (as on the inside of an automobile or a tank)

2: a place to stay temporarily

The same dictionary also gives the first known use of "crash pad" as being from 1939 and in the sense of 1: above. That is the literal, physical piece of protective padding.

I suspect that the original use of "crash pad" to mean an informal sleeping place was originally derived either from the use of crash pads inside or removed from parked or wrecked tanks in war zones as makeshift mattresses or from a perceived similarity between makeshift mattresses and actual crash pads.

Once the metaphorical use of "crash pad" had become established the back development of the slang verb "to crash" meaning to sleep informally using a piece of floor or a makeshift mattress could well have been rapid, particularly among demobbed WW2 veterans returning to civilian life.

The development of "crash pad" to mean a small second home in a city for a rich person and, therefore, "pad" for the home (often a squat) for beatniks, hippies and other members of sub cultures could also derive from this.

There is also a possibility that "pad" for a small home could be influenced by the more formal "pied à terre" (literally "foot to the ground") for a small second home.

I have spent a long time talking about the derivation of "crash pad" and "pad" to mean more or less informal living accommodation because it seems to me that the most likely origin of the verb "to crash" meaning "to sleep somewhere informally" is intimately connected with "crash pad", "pad" and, possibly, "pied à terre"

I have very little proof for this but I am posting it as an answer rather than a comment because I needed the space to expound my argument. If anyone down votes it I would urge them to place a counter argument or refutation in a comment.

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  • The back formation from the use of a tank's crash pad to sleep on seems unlikely. For one thing, "pad' as a colloquial use for an place to sleep, dates back to at least 1914, the date OED gives for it. And "crash pad" as a temporary place to sleep doesn't really show up until the 1960s. "Crash pad" in the first sense dates from at least 1925, used first in airplanes and later in cars, both uses of which are much more frequent than in reference to tanks. – Ken Liss Apr 19 at 17:16
  • @KenLiss I couldn't find any reference to 'pad' as a place to sleep any earlier than 1939 but, as it was said to be an informal sleeping place in 1914 I wold suggest that it meant a literal pad at that time. It could be significant that both the OED source for 'pad' in 1914 and the MW source for 'crash pad' in 1939 are both aligned with the start of World Wars. I stil think that 'pad' as a living space could be derived from 'pied a terre'. – BoldBen Apr 20 at 21:40

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