To knock someone’s socks off is to impress them. It can also mean to take someone by surprise.
Example: Henry has been practicing the guitar for a few years now, so he’s quite good at it. When his friend, Cody, heard him playing for the first time, it really knocked his socks off.
In other words, Cody was both impressed and surprised at how talented Henry was at playing the guitar.
The Origin Of ‘Knock Your Socks Off’
It’s hard to say what the imagery of this phrase is supposed to entail, because it can be multiple things! Is it someone that’s been so surprised, they leap out of their socks in shock? Or is it someone that’s so impressed, they are “blown away,” straight out of their socks? Or perhaps the idea is that someone gets hit so hard that the force literally knocks them from their socks.
I guess it depends on who you ask, but a long time ago, the latter imagery was likely the most common. I’ll talk about why in a minute.
The oldest recording of this phrase that I could find is from the middle of the 19th century, nothing before. This possibly suggests that it either became a popular phrase during this time, or that it originated around there.
Today, this expression mostly has to do with impressing or surprising someone. However, it can also mean “to defeat someone or something thoroughly, completely.” This latter meaning does not look to be commonly used today.
But it looks like that was different in the mid-19th century. For example, take a look at how the phrase was used in the Logansport Democractic Pharos newspaper, January 1856. To give context for the following quote, there was a disease that was said to have gotten its ‘socks knocked off’ by a certain remedy:
“The promptness and certainty with which the Ague King’s American remedy for Chills and Fever, knocks the socks off that disease.”
Obviously, the idea here wasn’t that the disease was surprised or impressed by the remedy, but that it was soundly defeated by it.
- This incredibly delicious dinner I’ve prepared for my wife is really going to knock her socks off.
- I’ve been cleaning the house for the past two hours, so when you see how pristine it looks, it’s really going to knock your socks off.
Note: The origins for most popular idioms cannot be said with a certainty. What’s provided are theories that may be plausible to how a phrase originated.
In addition, quotes that contain a particular phrase may be taken from old newspapers, poems, or books that were written centuries ago. This by no means confirms that the phrase originated from said sources. In all likelihood, if an expression is being used in a newspaper, it’s probably already a well known saying at the time.