THROW FOR A LOOP and its equal KNOCK FOR A LOOP are familiar expressions in the U.S. but appear to be less common elsewhere. However, exactly what the LOOP signifies was not clear me – I guess I had never given it any thought.<2008 “An Affair to Remember: She was 82. He was 95. They both had dementia. When they started having sex . . . relatives and caregivers were thrown for a loop.”—The Week, 27 June, page 44>
KNOCK/THROW FOR A LOOP North American:
1) Literally, to strike a person a hard blow, as with the fist, causing them to lose their balance and fall; to clobber. He knocked me for a loop with a blow to the head, but I got up and fought back
a) devastate, defeat We were knocked for a loop by the attack and were out of action for the duration.
b) To disorient someone by saying or doing something shocking or unexpected, to unsettle severely, disrupt calm and confidence, discombobulate; surprise, astonish, upset, bewilder, stun, catch off guard. His opponent’s unconventional debating style threw him for a loop until he finally figured out to deal with it..
c) To make a strong favorable impression on someone; dazzle. I was knocked for a loop by the beauty of her prose.
d) To do very well on; ace, cream. She was worried how she would do on her math test, but she knocked it for a loop.
Three sources I checked provided, with certitude, varying explanations of the expression’s origin. The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms claims that the ‘loop’ “alludes to the comic-strip image of a person pushed hard enough to roll over in the shape of a loop.” Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang attributes it to one “figuratively knocked ‘head-over-heels.’” Urdang’s Picturesque Expressions says that “The loop [
The expressions also have several variations, none of which I ever heard of:<1921 “Another story told is of a dog who attacked the brute [[supposed panther on loose]] and was KNOCKED FOR A LOOP of fifty feet for her efforts.”—New Castle News (Pennsylvania), 27 July, page 6>
<1922 “‘Kelley, the next time that guy comes back to my desk I am going to KNOCK HIM FOR A LOOP! exclaimed the Hotel Stenographer. ‘Did he neglect to flirt with you?’ asked the House Detective.”—Logansport Pharos-Tribune (Indiana), 17 March, page 4>
<1925 “[[New York City]] workers . . . felt themselves ‘KNOCKED FOR A LOOP’ on learning yesterday that . . . Thornton, one of their own, . . . had been suspended [[by their new superintendent, a retired Army general]] on a charge that smacks of strict Army discipline.”— Boston Daily Globe, 25 November, page >
<1927 “Chicago Steals Reno’s Fame in Giving Divorces . . .Chicago, big robust, corn-fed gal of a city that she is, walks up to spindling-legged little Miss Reno, and KNOCKS HER FOR A LOOP as she grabs Reno’s fame from off her pallid brow.”—Lima News (Ohio), 27 September, page 16>
<1933 “. . . before you could bat an eye he was THROWN FOR A LOOP and a 10-yard loss.”—Port Arthur News (Texas), 13 December, page 1>
<1935 “The English of the Comic Cartoons . . . Terms for ‘to deal a blow’: . . . bump, to pop, to smack for a loop, to KNOCK FOR A LOOP, . . .”—American Speech, Vol. 10, No. 1, February, page 52>
<1936 “Something had happened which had KNOCKED even the imperturbable Wibley FOR A LOOP.”—Pawnshop Murder by J. G. Brandon, v. page 46>
<1952 “The story of [[the play]] ‘Fire Sale’ centers on a slick sales team that sells fire engines to small towns through grafting officials. When an honest sale is to be made, the high-pressure boys are THROWN FOR A LOOP.”—New York Times, 9 January, page 26>
<1965 “The dust’s effect on the sensor . . . really THREW US FOR A LOOP.”—Time Magazine, 23 July, page 36>
<1969 “That memorandum THREW ME FOR A LOOP.”—Intercom Conspiracy by Eric Ambler
<1973 “That little charade of hers had KNOCKED HIM FOR A LOOP.”—Deadly Discretion, Diana Ramsey, page 153>
<1973 “Anne Baxter spent 30 hours cooped up in [a] hotel suite under [an assumed] name to make sure her appearance was a surprise to Bette Davis . . . and it was. Miss Davis boomed, ‘Well, I’ve certainly been THROWN FOR A LOOP.’”—Chicago Tribune, 15 May, page B2>
<1986 “Was I ever KNOCKED FOR A LOOP when my loan application was denied because of bad credit.”—Chicago Sun-Times, 21 October>
<1995 “On second down, Elway completed a pass to wide receiver Ed McCaffrey for 19 yards. McCaffrey was KNOCKED FOR A LOOP when safety James Washington tackled him. ‘I remember Rod making a great catch, but I don't remember much before or after . . .’”—Washington Post, 18 September>
<2000 “So it's come to this: Our nation's leader will be determined by the same people who are THROWN FOR A LOOP whenever the grocery bagger asks, ‘Paper or plastic?’ They are the people now known in political circles as the Undecideds, or Swing Voters.”—Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota), 28 October>
<2004 “This time around, he's a nerdy risk analyst who carefully plans the perfect life, only to be KNOCKED FOR A LOOP when his bride (Debra Messing) dumps him on their honeymoon.”—The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Wisconsin), 16 January>
<2008 “The booming market for financial products that comply with Islamic law was THROWN FOR A LOOP recently by criticism from a leading scholar . . .”—Associated Press, 11 January>
<2008 “The stars of TV's ‘Grey's Anatomy’ and ‘Private Practice’ are coming to the rescue of writers and crew KNOCKED FOR A LOOP by the writers strike.”—Daily News (Los Angeles, California), 28 February>
KNOCK/THROW FOR A GOAL/ROW
KNOCK FOR A ROW OF ASHCANS / MILK CANS / G.I. CANS / NAUGHTS / CHINESE PAGODAS / ACADEMY AWARDS / TALL RED TOTEM POLES
(Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford Dictionary of Idioms, Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Chapman’s Dictionary of American Slang, Dictionary of American Slang By Wentworth & Flexner, and archived sources)
Ken G – June 29, 2008