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
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 - http://www.americandialect.org
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