Have you ever been nagged? Has someone ever gotten your goat? Ever need someone to step off? You know the feeling of being sockdologized. At least, probably. We don’t exactly know for sure the true etymology of sockdologizing, but its place within the annals of American history is indisputable in the story of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.
The night of President Lincoln’s assassination was a comedy of errors perpetrated by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth and his secretive ring of personal supporters. What was supposed to be a complete decimation of the executive branch of the US government, with the simultaneous assassinations of Secretary of State William H. Seward and Vice President Andrew Johnson, quickly turned into a one-man show as John Wilkes Booth closed in on Ford’s Theatre, which was showing the play Our American Cousin.
Not normally put on today, the play Our American Cousin, was a roaring success that remained within American consciousness well into the late 19th century. The concept of the play centered around an American man meeting his English relatives, and the differences between the cultures. The word at hand occurs within the third act, said by the rustic American character Asa.
Don’t know the manners of good society, eh? Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal—you sockdologizing old man-trap. Wal, now, when I think what I’ve thrown away in hard cash to-day I’m apt to call myself some awful hard names, 400,000 dollars is a big pile for a man to light his cigar with. If that gal had only given me herself in exchange, it wouldn’t have been a bad bargain. But I dare no more ask that gal to be my wife, than I dare ask Queen Victoria to dance a Cape Cod reel.
Within the play, this is the first and only mention of the word. In addition, it’s one of the only mentions of the word in literature at all. The uniqueness of the word was useful within the assassination. Judging by the play’s start times, Booth wagered that the word would be uttered near the agreed-upon assassination time, 10PM. Once the memorable word was used on stage, Booth used this as his cue to assassinate President Lincoln.
Although the word isn’t completely understood even in context of the play excerpt, the idea remains the same. To be sockdologizing is to be harangue or beleaguer someone, in the context of the play at least. True to the rustic American archetype, the word’s meaning itself may not be completely understood, but its cultural place and distinct character sets it apart from the rest.