Sock it to me is certainly American in origin; how it got from meaning in the sense of 'tell me, give it to me, hit me, shoot,' to a phrase that was "at once meaningless and very meaningful and carried - among other ideas - a vague, implied sexual invitation" has a "Verrrry interesstink!" story to tell.

Three decades ago, television audiences alternately groaned and hooted as the "sock-it-to-me" girl Judy Carne and fellow comedian Dan Rowan (direct from beautiful downtown Burbank) debunked the literary virtuosities of The Odyssey:

    Dan: "Read any good books lately Judy?"
    Judy: "Well, right now I'm reading that old Greek saga The Odyssey."
    Dan: "You mean Homer's epic?"
    Judy: "It may be an epic to you but it's a saga to me."
Saga to me—get it?


..... buckets of water, an avalanche of Ping-Pong balls, custard pies and a trap door along with enough risqué merriment to keep water cooler conversations bubbling on Tuesday mornings about one of TV's hippest Monday night show called Rowan and Martin's Laugh In. Airing on the NBC network between 1968 and 1973. In addition to sock-it-to-me, they launched such punitive witticisms as:"Here come da judge" and "You can bet your sweet bippy!" while catapulting a giggly blond by the name of Goldie Hawn and dry witted Tsarina of switchboards Lily Tomlin into the media mainstream; even Dick Nixon make a cameo appearance and quipped:

"Sock it to ME?"

Outrageously popular it transitioned television entertainment from the stand up comedy on The Ed Sullivan Show to the next generation of the related variety show Saturday Night Live.

This wasn't the first time the phrase was used of course. It dates from some time around the 1850s and the earliest example in print that's been discovered so far is from a book published in 1866 about the American Civil War including the following quote:

    "Now then, tell General Emory if they attack him again to go after them, and to follow them up, and to sock it to them, and to give them the devil".
One linguist gives his opinion about this particular source:
    Pretty clearly this comes from a much older low slang use of the word sock, meaning to hit or punch, to give somebody a heavy blow, to assault or beat someone. There was also the phrase to give someone sock, to give someone a thrashing. These date back to the late seventeenth century in Britain, and were presumably carried to the USA by emigrants. We still have that sense of sock in phrases like "The driver socked him on the jaw" (plus the wonderful American sockdolager for a knock-down blow, which seems to owe its origin in part to a mental link with sock).
An issue of a 1968 copy of the Saturday Review mentions that the expression "Sock it to 'em" was used in The Grapes of Wrath written by John Steinbeck in 1939. In the novel of one the characters, a used car salesman uses the phrase "sock it to 'em" to unmistakably mean equally in context both, "to apply ultimate sales pressure" and "to screw."

The Queen of Soul stood the phrase completely on it's head with her late sixties legendary version that has since become a legendary success with its never-to-be forgotten "sock-it-to-me" background part; to many it turned into an anthem for women's rights. Aretha Franklin's purity of tone, her tremendous feeling for inspired variation and her unparalleled dynamics entranced producers, engineers and musicians alike. Executive Vice President of Atlantic Records and producer of the song "Respect" Jerry Wexler reflects in an interview on Franklin's recording of the song:

    "...when we recorded the sides in this album... there was one unvarying reaction: every time Aretha began a song, the musicians would shake their heads in wonder. After each take was completed, they would rush form the studio into the control room to hear the playback.

    "She took Otis Redding's "Respect" and turned it inside out, making it deeper, stronger, loading it with double entendres. She and her sister Carolyn (along with Erma, sang background vocals) came up with the famous "sock it to me" line.

    For Otis, "respect" had meant the traditional connotation, the more abstract meaning of esteem. The fervor in Aretha's magnificent voice demanded that respect and more: respect also involved sexual attention of the highest order. What else could "sock it to me mean? Given the political climate, respect became a touchstone of an era of emerging ethnic and feminist pride. Aretha's "Respect" resonates on a number of levels and lives on".

As one chapter in the phrase sock it to me saw its heyday in the 60's beginning with Aretha Franklin cutting her 1967 unstoppable R&B hit and the sock-it-to-me girl Judy Carne picking it up a couple of years later. Dan Rowan and Dick Martin complained to the NBC about the censoring of their sexual puns and political jabs on the show. The networks response was to end the piecemeal editing by canceling the show, meanwhile CBS stepped in with their hayseed rip off combination of Laugh In and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour called Hee-Haw prompting Leonard Nimroy to pun, Does NBC know this show is on?

Well since there's no more Gary Owen's sock –it-to-me time; no more Sweet Bippys, or Flying Fickled Finger of Fate, then that must mean it's...

"... time to say Good Night Dick"

Good Night, Dick.


Dewey Webb | Pulp Fiction:

"Respect," Aretha Franklin: ROCK.repsect/ROCK.respect.html

Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In: The Burbank Edition (World Publishing Company, 1969)

World Wide Words:

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