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 since he was a kid, so it probably goes without saying that he’s good at it. However, his friend, Cody, has never heard him play before. So Henry decided to invite him to a gig he’ll be doing in town later. “If you have the time, come watch my performance. I think it will knock your socks off.” (In other words, he thinks Cody will be both impressed and surprised by what he hears.)
Similar: blown away, blow someone’s mind
The Origin Of ‘Knock Your Socks Off’
For a lot people today, the kind of imagery that comes to mind when they think of this phrase likely involves a person being impressed or surprised, so much so that they leap out of their socks in shock. That’s one way to think about it. However, did you know that in the mid-19th century, the idea for the phrase “knock your socks off” seems to have involved someone being hit so hard, they’re literally knocked out of their socks? Ouch!
Indeed, the expression today mostly has to do with impressing or surprising a person. However, it can also mean “to defeat someone or something thoroughly, completely.” This latter meaning is not as common these days, but it was more so in the middle of the 19th century.
Let’s look at an example of the phrase being used with this older meaning. This particular example comes from the Logansport Democractic Pharos newspaper, January 1856. To give context for the following quote, there was a disease that’s 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.”
In other words, the disease was hit hard and defeated. Anyway, this quote is the oldest recording I could find of this expression in print, nothing before that year. To me, this suggests that it either originated around that time, or it started gaining popularity during that century.
- I’ve prepared an elaborate dinner for my wife. Hopefully when she sees it, it will knock her socks off.
- He told his brother: “I’ve come up with an idea that’s really going to knock your socks off.
- Learning about all of the different systems in the body and how they work together seriously blew me away.
- I got invited to a five star restaurant and after trying the food, it blew my mind how delicious everything was.
Note: The origin for many common idioms and phrases cannot be said with a certainty. So what you will sometimes see provided are theories that talk about how a phrase originated.
In addition, quotes that contain a particular phrase may be taken from old newspapers, poems or books. Oftentimes, these were written centuries ago. This does not confirm that the phrase originated from these sources. It’s simply meant to show how old the saying is, that is all. Really, if an expression is already being used in a newspaper, then it’s probably already a well known saying at the time.