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Thread: Clean Your Clock/Clock You

  1. #1
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    Clean Your Clock/Clock You

    Does anyone know the origin of these phrases? My Dad regularly uses them and I can't seem to find out where they come from.

    For those of you unfamiliar with these old sayings, to "clean your clock" means to beat you up, thrash you, etc. To "clock you" means to hit you in the face.

    I'm guessing that "clock" is related to the human face but that's all I know. I've also heard that it's BE slang and/or that it's a phrase developed from sporting events... Any help is appreciated.

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    Re: Clean Your Clock/Clock You

    I'll go hunting for the etymology when time permits. For now, just a specultation--clock you may be a reference to the ten count in boxing. If a boxer is knocked down, and doesn't get up from the mat by a count of ten, he is "knocked out" and loses the match.


    Edit: Ahh! Easier than I had expected.

    To begin at the beginning, "clock" has been slang for the human face since the mid-nineteenth century, based on its supposed resemblance to the face of a clock. "Clock" as a verb has also been slang for "to punch in the face or strike violently" since the early 20th century, again based on the clock-face metaphor.
    Elsewhere in the world of fisticuffs, according to the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, "clean" has been slang for "vanquish" since the early 19th century. The Random House dictionary also lists "fix someone's clock" as a slang term for "to finish someone," first attributed to the writer O. Henry in 1908.
    Great source for etymology: http://www.word-detective.com/092403.html#cleanclock
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  3. #3
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    Re: Clean Your Clock/Clock You

    From word-detective.com, http://www.word-detective.com/092403.html
    Curiously, the first citation for the whole phrase "clean someone's clock" comes only in 1959, but we can assume it had been around for awhile before that.
    Even with all this evidence tying faces and punches together, I must say that there is another possible source for "clean someone's clock." In railroad slang, an engineer who applies the train's air brakes in an emergency is said to "clean the clock" or "wipe the gauge" as the speedometer needle drops to zero. It seems logical that such a graphic metaphor would be the perfect way to describe stopping an opponent in his tracks, and even if this is not the source of the phrase, it may have contributed to its popularization.
    Last edited by cuchuflete; 15th August 2007 at 10:03 PM. Reason: Please note forum copyright rules: 4 sentences at most.
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    Re: Clean Your Clock/Clock You

    what is the BE slang?

  5. #5
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    Re: Clean Your Clock/Clock You

    Thanks for that, Cuchu and Bibliolept. For some reason, I didn't stumble on that site when I "Googled" it (but the site is now bookmarked on my computer!).

    Interestingly, Bibliolept, my Dad was a railroader in his youth and came from a family of railroad men so I kind of like that connection to the phrases. Dad, of course, can't remember where he heard it or picked it up. I must admit, though, that "clocking" someone sounds more like the boxing source.

    Mtymx, my reference to the possibility of it being BE slang was that I had heard that the phrases originated in Britain.

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    Re: Clean Your Clock/Clock You

    I've heard and used these phrases in the Metro New York area. I don't think it is a localism.

    "Try that again and I'll clock you and you won't ever get up."

    "Boy, he really got clocked, huh? For a minute there I thought he was dead."

    I haven't used the phrases recently--I'm a kinder, gentler Packard.

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    Re: Clean Your Clock/Clock You

    The last thread prompted this.

    I have heard of the expression to "clock you" as in

    "I've clocked you, I can see what you are doing". meaning I've seen you. I'm aware of what you are doing.

    To clock .. to catch sight of someone/thing.

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    Re: Clean Your Clock/Clock You

    Quote Originally Posted by katie_here View Post
    The last thread prompted this.

    I have heard of the expression to "clock you" as in

    "I've clocked you, I can see what you are doing". meaning I've seen you. I'm aware of what you are doing.

    To clock .. to catch sight of someone/thing.
    This specific use/meaning is not one with which I'm familiar. I can only think it stems from the more common use "clock in" to mean that you record someone's time; it's used figuratively--that is, not used to refer to racing or sports--but usually refers to time measurements (or possibly frequency).
    There's what we expect bears to do and then there's what they do. Sometimes the two don't match. - Joe Clark, wildlife ecologist

  9. #9
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    Re: Clean Your Clock/Clock You

    Quote Originally Posted by katie_here View Post
    I have heard of the expression to "clock you" as in

    "I've clocked you, I can see what you are doing". meaning I've seen you. I'm aware of what you are doing.

    To clock .. to catch sight of someone/thing.
    I have never heard of this meaning for the word. I am very familiar with the meaning "to time with a clock":
    He clocked one minute and ten seconds in his first lap around the track in the Greenwhitemobile.

    I am also familiar with the meaning "to hit or to strike, especially the face"
    You keep annoying me like that and I swear I will clock you.

    But "to catch sight of someone"? No, that's a new one for me...

  10. #10
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    Re: Clean Your Clock/Clock You

    Clock is a very versatile verb.
    From the OED
    - to time, by the clock;
    - to attain a certain time in a race;
    - with in/out, to record one's time;
    - to punch in the face (Australian slang);
    - to watch, observe, notice (slang, originally US);
    - to activate a bit of technological stuff by means of a repeating pulse;
    - to fraudulently wind back a vehicle's odometer (slang).

  11. #11
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    Re: Clean Your Clock/Clock You

    Our factory workers "punch a clock" (to record their arrival at work).

    They often say something like this:

    Did you clock in?

    Are you on the clock?

    When do you clock out?

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