Wednesday, August 31, 2016

WheRe wOrdS waNdeR: Knock it off

The command "knock it off" meaning "stop it" is first recorded 1880, perhaps from auctioneer's term for "dispose of quickly":

At the commencement of the sales, he gave every one that wanted to purchase a paper containing a description of the lands that were to be sold; and, as the sales were cried, he called over the numbers and described the land; and when it got up to one dollar and a quarter an acre, if no body bid, after it was cried two or three times, he would say, knock it off, knock it off. [U.S. Senate record, 1834]

The origin could possibly be from the habit of knocking a special beat to indicate a change of oarsmen in slave galleys. That's speculation but several of the earliest references to the term come from a nautical source; for example, William Clark Russell's novel An ocean tragedy, 1890:
"We were forced to knock off through sheer fatigue."

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