put a sock in it

If  you say, “Put a sock in it,” you’re telling someone to be quiet.

This phrase originated in the early 1900s and is generally used when someone is annoying others by being noisy. Imagine the pleasure of stuffing a sock in that person’s mouth. 

One of the earliest examples of it to appear in print is a definition of the term in the weekly literary review The Athenaeum 1919: “The expression ‘Put a sock in it,’ meaning ‘Leave off talking, singing or shouting’.” The fact that the publication chose to define the term suggests it had been recently coined.

There is a theory that the phrase arose because people were annoyed by the loud sounds produced by early gramophones, which did not have volume controls. The idea was that the person operating the machine should put a rolled-up sock inside the horn blaring out the sound.

However, it is more likely that the origin of the phrase is unknown, and that the gramophone story was created to explain where it came from.

Two early appearances in print contribute to that idea. The Australian newspaper The Port Macquarie News, on June 14, 1919, printed an article about wartime services slang. “It had begun to rain, and some chaps called out: ‘Send it down David!’ But others shouted: ‘Put a sock in it!’ And, after a lot of grousing, we started off.”

The second is from The Middle Parts of Fortune, by Frederic Manning in 1929. The novel is set in the trenches of the Western Front in France in 1916. Frederic Manning, an Australian, was there during his service with the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry.  

“I’m not miserable, corporal,” said little Martlow. “We’re not dead yet. On’y I’m not fightin’ for any fuckin’ Beljums, see. One o’ them buggers wanted to charge me five frong for a loaf o’ bread.”

“Well, put a sock in it. We’ve ‘ad enough bloody talk now.”

These two quotations seem to suggest that the phrase originated among servicemen in World War I. That would explain how the expression caught on with civilians simultaneously in Britain and Australia in 1919. It was carried to both by homecoming soldiers.

Those would be clean socks, I hope.

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