Thursday, February 21, 2013


How is it that getting socked can be such a bad thing, but getting socks can be pretty great (as long as Aunt Tildy didn’t pick them out).

The verb of the violent nature showed up in English in 1700, meaning to beat or hit. Nobody seems to know its source, but 1700s documents are rife with the word. By 1877 the term sock it to someone had caught on, which appears to be the beginnings of the 1970s phrase, sock it to me.

The socks we wear on our feet entered Old English from Latin through Germanic languages. In Old English a socc was a light slipper. Though medieval royalty wore woven silk socks, it wasn’t until the 1400s when William Lee invented the knitting machine that knitted socks worn inside of shoes became popular for the less-than-royal.

Socks figure highly in any number of idioms & terms:

Bless his/her cotton socks (1800s)
To knock the socks off someone (1845)
To stuff a sock in it / put a sock in it (1919) (though not proven, some believe this idiom came about because there were no volume controls on early Victrolas)
The windsock (1929)
To be socked in (1940s)
To sock money away (1942)
The sock hop (1950)

Also, in 1830 some unrecognized American combined sock with the essence of finality suggested by a doxology, creating the word sockdology, a decisive & final blow. Ironically, the word sockdolagising, from Tom Taylor’s play, Our American Cousin may have been one of the last words heard by Abraham Lincoln. Just as the line was spoken, Booth’s shot rang out. A decisive & final blow indeed.

Dear followers, are there any of these idioms you hadn’t previously heard? Any thoughts about socks, whether Aunt Tildy chose them out or not?

My thanks go out to this week’s sources the OED, Phrase Finder, The Lonely Sock, Sima Lixia, & Etymonline


  1. I bought my own birthday present this year. It arrived today. You guessed it--socks. The World's Softest Socks, they're officially called. When I was a kid, getting socks was not an occasion of excitement, but now I'm old...I'm much more easily pleased. Or more tenderly inclined toward my feet, anyway.

    Love the explanation of "put a sock in it." Totally believable. Also "socking it away". I'm sure that was once literal.

  2. Greetings Anne,
    It's good to know you're feeling healthy enough to be blog-cruising. Welcome back to the World of the Vertical, & yes, you the "sock it away" was originally a literal explanation of saving $. I guess the phrase "undermattressing one's money" never caught on.

  3. Heard all but sockdology, interesting the confluence of the word and the shot in Ford's Theater...

    I'm wondering, given the medieval penchant for not bathing regularly, if it wasn't easier and faster to deck someone by whacking them with your (used) sock... I'm sure one whiff would put even a giant on the ground pretty fast. That makes "socking it to someone" rather understandable, don't you think? And easier on the knuckles, too.

  4. Hi Susan,
    There's a fine theory. I wonder what the preeminent etymologists would have to say about your sock abuse theory.

  5. I've never heard sockdology. And, now I know, neither has my spell check. And I always thought "sock it to me" was a completely 1960's invention. I agree with Anne, love my cozy socks more and more as I get older and colder. At least we can get some real cute ones these days. Not your grandma's socks!