WOTD: sockdolager

Merriam-Webster?s
Word of the Day
September 20
 
sockdolager
\sock-DAH-lih-jer\   noun
Meaning: 1 : something that settles a matter : a decisive blow or answer : finisher | *2 : something outstanding or exceptional
Example Sentence: For a while I was completely stumped, but then, all of a sudden, I got a sockdolager of an idea.
Did you know? The verb “sock” (“to punch”) and the noun “doxology” (“a hymn of praise to God”) may seem like an odd pairing, but it is a match that has been promoted by a few word mavens when discussing the origins of the Americanism “sockdolager.” Don’t be too quick to believe the hype, however. When a word’s origin is simply unknown, as is the case with “sockdolager,” there’s a tendency for folks to fill in the gap with an interesting story, whether or not it can be verified. In the case of “sockdolager,” the “sock” part is plausible but unproven, and the “doxology” to “dolager” suggestion is highly questionable. The theory continues to have many fans, but it can’t deliver the knockout punch.

This word of the day, once more, is a very interesting word. I was particularly intrigued by the fact that its origins, much like those of “fatuous” are kind of hazy. So  here is what I found about its etymology from online sources:

sockdolager – Entry from EtymologyOnline
1830, “a decisive blow,” fanciful formation from sock (v.) “hit hard;” also said to be a variant of doxology, on a notion of “finality.” The meaning “something exceptional” is attested from 1838. Sockdologising was nearly the last word President Abraham Lincoln heard. During the performance of Tom Taylor’s “Our American Cousin,” assassin John Wilkes Booth (who knew the play well) waited for the line “Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, you sockdologising old man-trap,” and as the audience laughed, Booth fired the fatal shot.

The entry for sockdolager from the World Wide Words, includes, among others, these pieces of information:
SOCKDOLAGER/s?k?d?l?d??/Help with IPA: A heavy or knock-down blow.
This is one of the more famous of the set of extraordinary words that were coined in America in the early years of the nineteenth century, along with such gems as absquatulate, hornswoggle and skedaddle. As well as its literal meaning, sockdolager also came to mean something that was exceptional in any respect, especially, the OED says, a particularly large fish; one sense given in an edition of Bartlett?s dictionary in 1848 was ?a type of fish hook?. James Fenimore Cooper wrote in 1838 in Home as Found: ?There is but one ?sogdollager? in the universe, and that is in Lake Oswego?. Lexicographers are reluctant to speculate about where it came from (as usual there?s little evidence), but we may hazard a guess that it?s a combination of sock, meaning to give somebody a blow, with doxology, the little hymn of praise sung towards the end of a church service… The particular claim to fame of sockdolager is that a close relative of it was supposedly almost the last word President Lincoln heard. In Tom Taylor?s play Our American Cousin, there occurs the line ?Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, you sockdologising old man-trap?, and as the audience laughed, John Wilkes Booth fired the fatal shot.
– If you want to read the whole entry, please feel free to click on the link provided in the beginning of this paragraph.

So, thus far we are certain that the word originated in the 1800s and that the urban legend wants President Lincoln to have died after this line was uttered in the play. Well the timeline at least is something everyone agrees, including Google’s timeline:

 

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