Put a sock in it

The etymology of telling folk to keep it down a bit


Photography: Getty Images

At this time of year, our thoughts turn naturally to warmer footwear. In fact, we think cosy toes are so vital, we have a feature on the importance of stylish sockage in the November issue.

What we at The Simple Things don’t know about socks and how to wear them frankly is not worth knowing, but we were fascinated to learn the etymology of the phrase ‘to put a sock in it’.

As one might expect, the expression, meaning ‘oh, really, do pipe down a bit’, refers to the filling of an orifice with a sock in order to muffle a sound. What we did not know was that it refers specifically to the gramophone.

There was, of course, no volume control on gramophones (they didn’t answer to ‘Alexa’, either… Halcyon days…) so there was no way of making your music any quieter while you were getting down to the latest Tchaikovsky.

The solution was to keep a nice thick pair of socks by the gramophone so that if one was requested to keep it a bit quieter the socks could be stuffed into the horn. Hence, ‘put a sock in it’.
In fact, if you visit the National Trust’s Bateman’s in Sussex, you might see Rudyard Kipling’s own gramophone and be invited to experience putting a sock in it for yourself. Socks are supplied. We don’t think they are Kipling’s own. Though we imagine he really did wear exceedingly good socks.

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More from the November issue…

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