Home Grammar The Grammarphobia Weblog: Rock across the clock

The Grammarphobia Weblog: Rock across the clock

The Grammarphobia Weblog: Rock across the clock


Q: I used to have a coworker who bragged that he “rocked” his opponents in bar fights, which means he knocked them out or pummeled them. I haven’t heard anybody else use “rock” that method. Is there a historical past to this utilization, maybe a area the place it’s widespread?

A: English has two etymologically distinct phrases “rock,” each relationship from Anglo-Saxon occasions: a noun derived from rocca, medieval colloquial Latin for a big stone, and a verb of prehistoric Germanic origin which means to sway backward and forward.

We haven’t discovered a particular supply for the uncommon preventing use of “rock” you’re asking about, however it might have been influenced by numerous senses derived from both the noun or the verb. Right here’s the story.

When “rock” first appeared in Outdated English, it was a noun that was a part of the compound stanrocca (“stone rock”), a pointed or projecting rock, in accordance with the Oxford English Dictionary.

The dictionary’s earliest quotation is from the Latin-Outdated English Cleopatra Glossaries: “Obolisci, stanrocces.” Obolisci is Latin for “obelisks.”

(The glossaries, held on the British Library, are named for a bust of Cleopatra that sat on a bookcase the place the manuscripts have been saved within the library of Sir Robert Bruce Cotton.)

The noun seems by itself within the subsequent OED quotation, which is from the lyrics of an early Center English spiritual ballad about Judas, written someday earlier than 1275:

“Iudas, go þou on þe roc heie up-on þe ston, lei þin heued i my barm, slep þou þe anon” (“Judas, go thou on the rock, excessive upon the stone, lay thine head in my bosom, sleep thou anon”). From English Lyrics of the thirteenth Century (1932), by Carleton Brown.

When the opposite phrase “rock” appeared in Outdated English, it was a verb which means “to maneuver (a toddler) gently from side to side in a cradle, and so forth., with a view to soothe it or ship it to sleep,” the OED says.

The dictionary’s earliest  instance, which we’ve expanded, is from a Twelfth-century homily concerning the Virgin Mary by Ralph d’Escures, Archbishop of Canterbury:

“On his cildlicen unfernysse, heo hine baðede, & beðede, & smerede, & bær, & frefrede, & swaðede, & roccode” (“In his childhood infirmity, she bathed him, and warmed him, and anointed him, and carried him, and comforted him, and swaddled him, and rocked him”).

John Ayto’s Dictionary of Phrase Origins says the verb is derived from a prehistoric Germanic base reconstructed as rukk- and which means “transfer.” Ayto cites comparable phrases in different Germanic languages, such because the German rücken (“transfer”) and the Dutch rukken (“pull, jerk”).

The unique cradle-rocking sense of “rock” has given us many different senses, together with to shake bodily (1300) or psychologically (1881), to disturb or “rock the boat” (1903), to bounce to music with a powerful beat (1931), and to “rock and roll” (1941).

It’s potential that the sense of shaking somebody bodily might have influenced the punching and preventing which means of the verb “rock” that you just’re asking about. However we’ve seen no proof to help this.

One other potential affect is a wholly totally different verb “rock” that appeared in American regional English at first of the seventeenth century with a violent slang sense. Derived from the noun “rock,” it meant to throw stones at somebody or one thing—that’s to stone them.

The Dictionary of American Regional English says the utilization mainly happens within the South and South Midland areas, however the earliest DARE instance is from a Philadelphia newspaper:

“ ‘Rock him! rock him!’ cried the boys, ‘rock him not far away’ … The wearer was ‘rocked’ until he turned his cloak inside out” (Public Ledger, Aug. 30, 1836).

The earliest Southern instance in DARE is an 1899 entry in a guide concerning the regional dialect of Virginia: “Rock … To throw rocks. ‘You boys cease rocking’ ” (Phrase Guide of Virginia People-Speech, 1912, by Bennett Wooden Inexperienced).

Nevertheless, we haven’t seen any proof that the stoning sense of the verb “rock” impressed the preventing utilization you’re asking about. Actually, we haven’t discovered any etymological or slang reference that notes the usage of “rock” as to struggle or punch.

Nevertheless, Inexperienced’s Dictionary of Slang has two examples for “rock it” used to imply struggle, an obscure sense that confirmed up within the early twentieth century.

The primary instance is from Capricornia, a 1938 novel by the Australian author Xavier Herbert, set in Australia’s Northern Territory: “Rock it into him, Darkey—you bought him now!”

The subsequent Inexperienced’s quotation, which we’ve expanded, is from the American musical West Aspect Story (1957), with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and guide by Arthur Laurents:

“We’re gonna rock it tonight, / We’re gonna jazz it up and have us a ball! / They’re gonna get it tonight; / The extra they flip it on, the more durable they’ll fall!”

The phrase “rock” has many different meanings, as each a verb and a noun, however we’ll finish with a style sense that advanced within the late twentieth century from the unique baby-rocking verb.

The OED defines this contemporary verb as “to put on, esp. with panache; to show, flaunt, or sport (as a personally distinctive model, accent, possession, and so forth.).”

The dictionary’s first quotation, which we’ve expanded, is from “Elementary,” a 1987 music by the hip-hop group Boogie Down Productions, with lyrics by KRS-One (Lawrence Parker) and Scott La Rock (Scott Monroe Sterling):

“Watchin’ all these females rock their pants too tight, / Cos there’s no different artistic composition on show / That give a full evaluation and rock this fashion.”

A newer instance that we’ve discovered is that this headline from the Every day Mail (London, July 11, 2022): “Kourtney Kardashian rocks edgy black and white leather-based jacket and thick sun shades whereas posing for mirror selfie.”

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