Soc(k)dol(l)ager

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Thu Apr 20 00:38:35 UTC 2006


It is said that John Wilkes Booth fired at Lincoln at the moment in the play ("Our American Cousin") when the protagonist addressed a lady as "You sockdolagizing old man-trap!"

  JL

Bapopik at AOL.COM wrote:
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Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Bapopik at AOL.COM
Subject: Soc(k)dol(l)ager
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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 =20
question.)
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The Word Detective
By Evan Morris
Copyright =A9 2006 by Evan Morris
For Release: Wednesday, May 3, 2006


Dear Word Detective: Now in my third year of law school, I've grown=20
accustomed to encountering judicial opinions written as much to show off=20
a judge's word power as to decide a case. Sometimes this drives me to a=20
legal dictionary, but today I read a line in an opinion from a federal=20
appeals court that forced me to consult a regular dictionary: "The=20
sockdolager is that the original drafters certainly intended that the=20
two subparagraphs of the rule be harmonized, not balkanized." Setting=20
aside the subsequent legalese, where in the world did the word=20
"sockdolager" come from? It was completely unfamiliar to me, and =20
although my dictionary defines it as "something that settles a matter : =20
a decisive blow or answer," that same dictionary pleads ignorance on =20
etymology. My stab in the dark is that this is some quirky New England =20
Yankee term, since the court in question sits in Massachusetts. But =20
aside from that speculation, I must throw myself on the mercy of the =20
Word Detective! -- Matthew Grieco, New York, NY.

It must be tempting for judges to pepper their opinions with obscure=20
words, knowing as they do that generations of law students (as well as=20
practicing attorneys and fellow judges) will be forced to puzzle over=20
their vocabulary. In the case of "sockdolager," Hizzoner has picked a=20
doozie, albeit one on the cusp of retirement. "Sockdolager" is rarely=20
heard today outside of historical novels.

Twas not always thus, however. According to "America In So Many Words,"=20
David Barnhart and Alan Metcalf's nifty compendium of words invented in=20
the New World, "sockdolager" was one of a rash of "ten dollar words" =20
coined in the early 19th century US. Others included the even more =20
obscure ""callithumpian" (a noisy parade) and "snollygoster" (a =20
political job-seeker).

The primary meaning of "sockdolager" was indeed "a decisive blow" when=20
it first appeared in the 1820s, but a secondary meaning of "something=20
exceptional" had appeared by 1838. The "sock" element is almost=20
certainly the same "sock" we use to mean "a heavy blow" (of unknown=20
origin, but apparently unrelated to the "foot" sort of "sock").

The "dolager" element of the word may be simply random (this is a=20
made-up word, after all), but some authorities have suggested a =20
connection to "doxology," a short hymn of praise often used as the =20
conclusion to a religious service.=20
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(OED)
sockdolager
[prob. a fanciful formation.]=20
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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=20=
=20
"socdollager," which was current some time ago. "Socdollager" was the=20
uneducated man's transposition of "doxologer, which was the familiar New En=
gland=20
rendering of "doxology." This was the Puritan term for the verse ascription=
used=20
at the conclusion of every hymn, like the "Gloria," at the end of a chanted=
=20
psalm. On doctrinal grounds it was proper for the whole congregation to joi=
n=20
in the singing, so that it became a triumphant winding up of the whole act=20=
of=20
worship. Thus is happened that "socdollager" became the term for anything=20
which left nothing else to follow; a decisive, overwhelming finish, to whic=
h no=20
reply was possible.

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