Bapopik at AOL.COM Bapopik at AOL.COM
Wed Apr 19 20:23:33 UTC 2006

What do the revised OED, HDAS, Early American Newspapers have on this  word?
(By the way, I think I may know "Matthew Grieco, NY NY" who asked this  
The Word Detective
By Evan Morris
Copyright © 2006 by Evan  Morris
For Release: Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Dear Word Detective:  Now in my third year of law school, I've grown 
accustomed to encountering  judicial opinions written as much to show off 
a judge's word power as to  decide a case. Sometimes this drives me to a 
legal dictionary, but today I  read a line in an opinion from a federal 
appeals court that forced me to  consult a regular dictionary: "The 
sockdolager is that the original drafters  certainly intended that the 
two subparagraphs of the rule be harmonized, not  balkanized." Setting 
aside the subsequent legalese, where in the world did  the word 
"sockdolager" come from? It was completely unfamiliar to me, and  
although my dictionary defines it as "something that settles a matter :  
a decisive blow or answer," that same dictionary pleads ignorance on  
etymology. My stab in the dark is that this is some quirky New England  
Yankee term, since the court in question sits in Massachusetts. But  
aside from that speculation, I must throw myself on the mercy of the  
Word Detective! -- Matthew Grieco, New York, NY.

It must be tempting  for judges to pepper their opinions with obscure 
words, knowing as they do  that generations of law students (as well as 
practicing attorneys and fellow  judges) will be forced to puzzle over 
their vocabulary. In the case of  "sockdolager," Hizzoner has picked a 
doozie, albeit one on the cusp of  retirement. "Sockdolager" is rarely 
heard today outside of historical  novels.

Twas not always thus, however. According to "America In So Many  Words," 
David Barnhart and Alan Metcalf's nifty compendium of words invented  in 
the New World, "sockdolager" was one of a rash of "ten dollar words"  
coined in the early 19th century US. Others included the even more  
obscure ""callithumpian" (a noisy parade) and "snollygoster" (a  
political job-seeker).

The primary meaning of "sockdolager" was  indeed "a decisive blow" when 
it first appeared in the 1820s, but a  secondary meaning of "something 
exceptional" had appeared by 1838. The  "sock" element is almost 
certainly the same "sock" we use to mean "a heavy  blow" (of unknown 
origin, but apparently unrelated to the "foot" sort of  "sock").

The "dolager" element of the word may be simply random (this is  a 
made-up word, after all), but some authorities have suggested a  
connection to "doxology," a short hymn of praise often used as the  
conclusion to a religious service. 
[prob. a fanciful formation.] 
19 March 1893, Chicago Daily Tribune, pg. 36:
"Origin of the Word "Socdollager."
A writer in the March _Atlantic_ gives this as the origin of the slang word  
"socdollager," which was current some time ago. "Socdollager" was the 
uneducated  man's transposition of "doxologer, which was the familiar New England 
rendering  of "doxology." This was the Puritan term for the verse ascription used 
at the  conclusion of every hymn, like the "Gloria," at the end of a chanted 
psalm. On  doctrinal grounds it was proper for the whole congregation to join 
in the  singing, so that it became a triumphant winding up of the whole act of 
worship.  Thus is happened that "socdollager" became the term for anything 
which left  nothing else to follow; a decisive, overwhelming finish, to which no 
reply was  possible.

The American Dialect Society -

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