Knock It Off, and Other Idioms in Historical Context

Aug 2019
70
New York
I’ve seen some interesting idioms used lately and it got me thinking about the historical context of their origins, I thought a thread about them might be fun.

From what I can gather, the idiom “knock it off” is derived from the saying “knock off” as in, to stop or cease an activity, which seems to first appear in the seventeenth century (a conjunction of the phase, “knockoff”, was also later used to more directly mean “stop work”). However, there may be a slightly more recent (and literal) connection to the phrase as it may have been used in auction houses to signal the end of bidding, but I’m having trouble finding a decent reference on that.

Now it mostly just means “stop it” with perhaps a slightly annoyed connotation.

I’d love to see some other idioms and their use/meaning historically.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Futurist and Niobe
Feb 2019
906
Pennsylvania, US
The 1920's had a lot of fun idiomatic phrases... like “beat the band”... it's now used as a positive intensifier, but originally it was used to describe someone trying to talk over the band (i.e. be so loud that they could be heard above the music).
 

Peter Graham

Ad Honorem
Jan 2014
2,694
Westmorland
'Flash in the pan' (meaning something which looks exciting or important but which fades away as quickly as it burst onto the scene) and 'going off at half-cock' (meaning doing something in an unprepared fashion) both have their roots in horse-and-musket era military slang. A flash in the pan was what happened when the priming powder in the firing pan ignited but failed to cause a musket to fire, whereas going off at half cock was what happened when a musket discharged early (having not been taken back to full cock).
 
  • Like
Reactions: Scaeva and Futurist

Peter Graham

Ad Honorem
Jan 2014
2,694
Westmorland
'Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey' is supposedly early modern naval idiom. A monkey was a triangular frame, not unlike the ones used to set up the red balls in a snooker game. The balls were piled up in a pyramid shape with the monkey preventing the bottom layer from moving around. The monkey was made of brass, meaning that in cold conditions it contracted quicker than did the iron cannon balls stacked on it. This caused the pyramid of balls to pop off the monkey.

I really hope that this one is not apocryphal!
 

Peter Graham

Ad Honorem
Jan 2014
2,694
Westmorland
'The full Monty' (meaning 'the lot') is apparently a reference to the fact that Field Marshal Montgomery liked an enormous cooked breakfast each morning, although another derivation has it that it refers to a Burton suit, which coudl be obtained relatively cheaply with alll the accessories (Montague Burton being the original owner of the company).
 
  • Like
Reactions: Modor and Futurist

Matthew Amt

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
3,071
MD, USA
"Lock, stock, and barrel" is another musket reference, referring to the fundamental parts of a firearm. As I heard it, military procurement orders were careful to specify delivery of muskets that way, or clever contractors would omit some vital part.

Matthew
 
  • Like
Reactions: Modor and Futurist
Jul 2016
1,349
Dengie Peninsula
'The full Monty' (meaning 'the lot') is apparently a reference to the fact that Field Marshal Montgomery liked an enormous cooked breakfast each morning, although another derivation has it that it refers to a Burton suit, which coudl be obtained relatively cheaply with alll the accessories (Montague Burton being the original owner of the company).
I used to play Snooker above montague burtons in North Finchley. They were famous for Snooker Halls.. Above the shops.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Futurist