What Is Graveyard Shift?—Origin & Meaning

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Ever worked late into the night, under the flickering neon lights, feeling like you’re in a scene straight out of a noir film? You might have been pulling a graveyard shift.

No, it’s not about digging graves under the moonlight (although that would make a great plot for a thriller novel). This expression actually refers to late-night work hours. But where did this spooky term come from, and how does it differ from the usual night shift? I’ll tell you all about it!

Meaning of Graveyard Shift

What Is Graveyard Shift Origin Meaning

It has nothing to do with the graveyard watch. Graveyard shift is a noun phrase that refers to the work shift that covers the late-night hours, usually from midnight to about 8 a.m. It’s called this because it’s as quiet as a graveyard at these hours, with most people asleep and the streets mostly deserted.

I used to work at a pizza joint back in the day, and I was considered the flexible one because I was so young and had little to no responsibilities in life. So, what shift did I always get stuck with? That’s right, the late-night graveyard shift. But I didn’t mind because it was quiet, and I could sit and read!

Graveyard Shift or Grave Yard Shift?

If you’re wondering whether it’s grave yard shift or graveyard shift, it’s the latter. The term graveyard is one word, not two. So, you’d be working the graveyard shift, not the grave yard shift.

Graveyard Shift Phrase Etymology and Origin

Graveyard Shift Ngram
Graveyard shift usage trend.

The origin story for the phrase graveyard shift isn’t as ghoulish as it sounds. It actually originated during the industrial revolution when factories needed to operate around the clock. The late-night shift was nicknamed the graveyard shift because of the quiet and stillness associated with the graveyard during these hours.

An early publication of the term can be found in The Salt Lake Tribune, an American newspaper back in 1897, and the excerpt reads, “The police changed shifts for the month yesterday. This month Sergeant Ware takes the morning relief. Sergeant Matt Rhodes the middle and Sergeant John Burbidge the graveyard shift.”

What’s the Difference Between Graveyard Shift and Night Shift?

First of all, the terms graveyard shift and night shift can be used interchangeably because they both imply different periods of time during the night depending on the context.

Generally, a night shift could start late afternoon or early evening and end late at night or early morning. But the graveyard shift specifically refers to the time period from midnight to early morning, the quietest and darkest hours of the night.

What Is Another Term for Graveyard Shift?

In case you want to avoid the spooky connotations, here are some alternative terms you can use instead of graveyard shift.

  • Midnight shift
  • Night shift
  • Third shift
  • Late shift
  • After-hours shift
  • Overnight shift
  • Wee hours shift
  • Night watch

Graveyard Shift Examples in a Sentence

What Is Graveyard Shift Origin Meaning 1

Now that we’ve exhumed the facts, let’s see how to use graveyard shift in a sentence.

  • Working the graveyard shift can be tough on your sleep schedule, but it has its perks, like fewer interruptions, quieter hours and more free time.
  • As a security guard, my dad often pulled the graveyard shift and found the silence of the night calming, especially compared to a house full of kids.
  • I’ve worked the undesired graveyard shift a dozen times now, and I’m starting to feel the effects on my body.
  • The hospital always needed nurses willing to work the graveyard shift, so my aunt would always volunteer.
  • Jane preferred the graveyard shift because it allowed her to attend college during the day.
  • During college, my brother worked the graveyard shift at a convenience store gas station to pay his tuition and living expenses.

Quiet as a Graveyard

And there is everything you need to know about the graveyard shift. So, remember you’re not alone the next time you’re burning the midnight oil. There’s a whole cohort of people who make the world turn while the rest of us are fast asleep. Whether it’s the eerie calm or the peace of the night that you enjoy, the graveyard shift has its own charm. Be sure to have a quick look at my other guides and grammar tips for more awesome knowledge!