• sockdolager •
Pronunciation: sahk-dah-lê-jêr • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A conclusive blow, a knockout or knockdown punch. 2. A humdinger of a humdinger, the 800 lb. gorilla, something so exceptionally large and outstanding that it settles a question or issue.
Notes: Today's Good Word is another of those funny concoctions from early America. It has been around long enough that a verb, sockdolagize "to hit hard and finalize", has been created from it. When we need an adjective, the participle from this verb will do: sockdolagizing, as 'a sockdolagizing best-seller'.
In Play: The basic sense of today's Good Word is a hard blow: "I could have given him a sockdolager when he called me a wimp." However, anything outstanding or one of a kind qualifies for today's Good Word: "I don't remember a thing, but it must have been a sockdolager of a party because I woke up this morning with a sockdolager of a headache."
Word History: No one knows where this word came from. The Oxford English Dictionary surmises that it is a fanciful creation. It is a fanciful creation originating in the US—the American frontier at work again, no doubt. A good guess would be that it originated in doxologer, the common mispronunciation of doxology in New England way back when. This term was used in the 19th century for the word or line sung at the end of a hymn. This makes semantic sense since nothing is read or sung after this kind of 'doxologer'. Though we are not sure where the word came from, Etymonline reports that it might have been one of the last words that President 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. (Now let's thank Susan Ardith Lee for suggesting such a sockdolager of a Good Word.)