The origins of famous sock phrases

Posted by SOCKSHOP

Socks seem to get everywhere in modern English. If we’re not having them knocked off by something amazing, then we’re socking it to someone.
Sock Phrases

Here, we look at the strange etymology behind some of the most common sock-inspired phrases.

‘Pull your socks up’

There’s no exact reasoning behind this phrase. Some have suggested it came from the military and was a call to wake up the men. As military men were always ready to go, all they’d need to do to be fully kitted up would be to pull their socks up.

The first recorded usage of it is in H. F. McLelland’s Jack & Beanstalk in 1893.

‘Sock it to them/me’

Using the word sock to mean to ‘strike someone’ comes from probably around 17th Century Britain, when people said ‘give someone sock’. This meant to give someone a thrashing.

‘Put a sock in it’

While some suggest ‘putting a sock in it’ was an early form of volume control for gramophones, the dates don’t really add up. The Athenaeum, a London-based magazine, ran a definition in 1919, saying it meant “Leave off talking, singing or shouting”. But by that time, gramophones had been hugely popular for well over a decade.

Another source suggests, once again, that it comes from the army. This time it was the front line of World War I. A 1916 set novel, The Middle Parts of Fortune by Frederic Manning, uses the phrase.

It may be that it only made it to home shores in 1919 when soldiers returned from the front. Socks in the trenches would have been foul smelling items, so putting one in your mouth would have been thoroughly disgusting.

‘Knock your socks off’

This is literally as it sounds – an event or blow big enough to knock you back and take with it your socks and shoes. Some suggest it was used as initially to suggest a force large enough to just knock the shoes off. The word ‘sock’ comes from the Latin soccus, which was a small shoe worn by actors.

Since then, the meaning has moved away from violent strikes towards something that means a shock or surprise.

Another, less likely origin, is that it comes from the world of adult entertainment. In the original adult movies, male actors were often a bit camera shy and would wear masks to hide their faces as well as keep their socks on. Movies in which you could see their face and their feet had ‘knocked their socks off’.

‘Bless their cotton socks’

While this might seem a straightforward one – little children who wore cotton socks would be blessed – it’s actually a bit more complicated than that, if the stories are to be believed.

It comes not from the cotton material, but from George Edward Lynch Cotton. In 1858 as Bishop of Calcutta, Mr Cotton created schools for Eurasian children. As part of his philanthropy, he ordered dozens of pairs of socks to be sent over for the children, blessing them on arrival.

One day, an overeager staff member handed out the socks before they were blessed so in future a note was added to the crates of socks saying 'Cotton's socks for blessing'. When he died in 1866, a message was sent to the Archbishop asking 'Who will bless his cotton socks?'


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