Where Did “Sock Sayings” Originate

Have you ever “knocked somebody’s socks off” or had somebody do it to you? Or, told an annoying person to “put a sock in it?”

Have you ever wondered why we use the imagery of socks to express surprise or to tell somebody to shut up?

As with many idioms, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where, how and by whom these sock sayings originated. Here are theories on where three popular expressions involving socks may have originated.

“Knock Your Socks Off”

Today, this phrase is used to describe something that will pleasantly surprise or impress another person. Its original use was far different.

The phrase is most widely believed to have originated in the mid-1800s to describe a beating so bad that the winner of the fight may have knocked his opponent right out of his socks. Other similar sayings originating at this time included “knock your lights out” and “knock you into next week.”

Over time, “knock your socks off” was used in any type of competition in which there was a decisive winner. It evolved from there to include any impressive action or feat.

“Put a Sock in it”

Most people recognize this popular expression as a way to tell somebody to be quiet or quit talking. So how did it become fashionable to equate silence with jamming a sock down the offending source of noise?

One popular theory is that the first phonographs, in which a horn amplified the sound from the record, had no volume control. If listeners found the device too loud, their only recourse — other than to stop the music — was to shove a sock into the horn to muffle the sound.

Others believe it originated in the military. One theory is that during World War I, soldiers would place a sock in the mouth of somebody they wanted to pipe down or prevent snoring at night.

“Sock it to Me”

This is another expression that appears to have its roots in the mid-1800s. There is use of it in a publication about the just completed American Civil War in 1866 that reads: “Now then, tell General Emory if they attack him again to go after them, and to follow them up, and to sock it to them, and to give them the devil.”

Similar to knocking one’s socks off, sock it to me in this passage suggests it meant to hit hard, attack, or beat somebody. This matches with the verb form of sock, which means to assault or hit.

This phrase got new life a century later when it was used in popular songs like Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” and Mitch Ryder's "Sock It To Me, Baby!” It was also a one-liner used frequently in the popular variety show, “Laugh-In.”

So, the next time you hear one of these “sock sayings”, you’ll have a whole new perspective on it. Who knows—you may just go on to create your very own.


About the author

EVERSOX is a worldwide supplier of custom branded socks for businesses, retailers, and promotional products distributors — with over 10,000 designs manufactured & 100 major brands served since 2010.