cleaned his clock

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cleaned his clock

Post by Archived Topic » Fri Jul 16, 2004 5:17 am

There is a term that you hear occasionally refering to someone being punched out saying that "he got his clock cleaned". Does anyone have any feedback on this phrase?
michael j. USA
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cleaned his clock

Post by Archived Reply » Fri Jul 16, 2004 5:32 am

Michael, Thought at first that this was one of those ‘Johnny Carsonisms’ (made for TV sayings), but it ain’t, and it actually does predate its TV popularity according to slang dictionaries. But Cassell’s and the American Heritage Dictionary of Slang take somewhat different views on its origin. ___________________________________________________________

Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang:

TO CLEAN SOMEONE’S CLOCK, phrase [1940’s and still in use] (originated in U.S.) 1) to beat up severely. 2) to take all someone’s money, especially during gambling (cf. ‘clean out’). [figurative use of Standard English]; ? link to US railroad jargon ‘clean the clock,’ to apply the airbrakes and thus bring the train to a sudden stop. The ‘clock’ in question is the air gauge, which on halting, immediately registers zero and is thus ‘clean.’].
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American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms

CLEAN SOMEONE’S CLOCK: Beat, thrash, or defeat someone decisively, as in “He’s much bigger than you and could easily clean your clock.” This term originated in the military. The use of ‘clock’ is unclear but possibly alludes to hitting someone in the face ( for ‘clockface’) [slang mid-1900s]
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Brewer’s Dictionary of Modern Phrase & Fable

TO CLEAN SOMEONE’S CLOCK: To beat or defeat them decisively. The term is of U.S. military origin and arose during the Second World War. A person’s ‘clock’ is probably their face (‘dial’).
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On Language in New York Times by William Safire, February 3, 2002

Clean Yer Clocks: . . . But the most extreme — and to some, most mysterious — expression of such merry mayhem is to clean their clocks.. “This phrase is being used by TV newscasters,” writes Stuart Zuckerman of New York, “to describe everything from one-sided victory in sports to the U.S. bombing in Afghanistan. What’s the origin?”

Clock-cleaning is indeed rampant. “If we try to play by the Marquess of Queensberry rules,” said Gen. Brent Scowcroft during the recent anti-Taliban campaign, “we’re going to get our clock cleaned.” Mark Mednick, coach of California’s Irvine High girls’ volleyball team, told The Orange county Register that in the battle with Torrance High, “in the third game, they cleaned our clock but then Hillary Thomson had some clutch digs.”

Break the phrase apart for close study. “To clean” gained a sense of “to clean out” in 1812, applied to victims of thieves or gamblers. IN a few years, a slang meaning of clean became “to drub, defeat, wipe out.”

Now take up clock in its verb form, as in “clock him one.” When I expressed puzzlement about this years ago, British readers pointed out that a clock had a face, to clock someone was to hit them in the face or elsewhere on the head. That led to the slang term fix one’s clock: an O. Henry story in 1904 had the line “I reckon we’ll fix your clock for a while.”

In Latin, clocca means “bell.” (A cloche hat is bell-shaped.) The clock registered time by striking a bell, and that act of noisily striking or hitting was also expressed in the verb to clock. In baseball, “he really clocked it refers to the hard-hit ball; in football, “he really clocked him” is said over the sprawled-out form of the well-tackled runner.

Thus was developed to clean (defeat, thrash, trounce) one’s clock (face, head, person). Earliest citation so far in 1959, the novelist Sam Cochrell wrote this dialogue: “Don’t give me that guff. You’re not a corporal anymore.” “I don’t have to be a corporal to clean your clock.”

More specific usages abound, from the sexual (“to deliver complete satisfaction”) to the automotive (“to pass another vehicle at great speed”). In all, the essential meaning remains: “to whomp, clobber, slaughter, pulverize” and all the other evocations of thoroughness expressed in clean your clock.
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Ken G – November 4, 2002
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cleaned his clock

Post by Ken Greenwald » Mon Mar 13, 2006 4:55 am

In today’s New York Times, William Safire updated his above 2002 ‘On Language’ discussion of the phrase “clean one’s clock.”:

CLEAN YOUR CLOCK: ''Our side would welcome that debate," Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, told Democrats hinting at a floor fight over the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. "And frankly, we'll clean your clock."

The Wall Street Journal told Virginia's G.O.P. that the way to "turn a red state blue" was to act like liberals: "Republicans in that ostensibly 'red' Republican state got their clocks cleaned in November's elections after they refused to take a coherent stand on taxes."

Keith McFarland at Business Week recalled that U.S. industries awakened to the need for quality production 20 years ago "primarily because America was getting its clock cleaned by the Japanese."

All three usages of this mysterious slang expression took place in 2006. Only four years ago, it was analyzed in this space as one of the sports pulverization terms, along with whomp, clobber, slaughter, thrash, trounce, all shunting aside the colorless defeat decisively. The earliest citation then was from 1959, suggesting it was derived from the early 20th-century fix your clock, using the face of a timepiece to stand for the human face, as in the related insult, a face that would stop a clock .

Comes now this citation from the sports page of The Trenton Evening Times of July 28, 1908, about a couple of local baseball teams: "It took the Thistles just one inning to clean the clocks of the Times boys." That means that this mechanical metaphor has been kicking around for at least nearly a century, most often in sports lingo, now more in combative political language (and occasionally with a sexual overtone regarding being exhausted by one's partner, though I can offer no citation). And it is being spread around the world: in an article about the portrayal of villains on Japanese television, Kate Elwood wrote three months ago in The Daily Yomiuri of Tokyo that an idealistic teacher named Yankumi "with a certain élan, cleans the clocks of assorted bad guys over many episodes. . .way to go, Yankumi!"

Why does Old Slang stay with us long after the basis for the metaphor has staggered off into the mists of meaning? Perhaps alliteration helps give it linguistic longevity; clean your clock comes readily to the tongue though it has no semantic relation to "wash your face." In the same way, so does drop a dime, as in David Van Biema's recent review in Time magazine of a Coptic Egyptian translation of a supposed second-century manuscript irreverently titled "The Gospel of Judas." The reviewer writes about the title character famed for his betrayal, "Technically speaking, he did drop a dime on Jesus."

To drop a dime means "to insert a coin into a pay phone to dial the police and inform about a criminal conspiracy." The reviewer's ironic description of a betrayer, whistle-blower, informer, leaker or fink of two millenniums ago uses a communications device a couple of generations out of date. Does anybody under 40 — who never uses a pay phone, which long ago lost its dial and stopped costing a dime — get the reference? I presume some people do, because there it is in last week's Time about a dime-dropper who got his clock cleaned by history. [[<2006 “Judas Iscariot, vilified in the Gospels as Jesus’ great betrayer, was not merely an Apostle–he was perhaps Christ’s closest confidant. Technically speaking, he did DROP A DIME on Jesus”—‘Time Magazine,’ 27 February>]]
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<1959 “The Cadets’ great halfback, bob Anderson, went along with all of this, but reaffirmed an earlier stand he took when he warned the Falcons: ‘We’re going to CLEAN THEIR CLOCKS’ . . .”—‘Chicago Daily Tribune,’ 30 October, page C1>

<1966 “‘I may be setting public relations back 50 years,’ said Oriole publicist Joe Bride. ‘But we’re going to CLEAN THEIR CLOCKS. We’re going to take them apart.”—‘Los Angeles Times,’ 5 October, page B3>

<1977 “‘We must make it clear to Kim Il-Sung [North Korean boss]] that we will provide South Korea with whatever U.S. support is necessary to CLEAN HIS CLOCK for him if he attacks.”—‘Chicago Tribune,’ 31 August, B2>

<1980 “If you don’t keep the hell away from Colly I’ll CLEAN YOUR CLOCK. I’ll fix your wagon but good.”—‘Counseling Adults’ by De Vries, page 109>

<2000 “Don’t rely on spots alone; prove your [[George Bush]] readiness on unrehearsed TV: Your biggest enemy is the growing worry among Republicans that Al Gore would CLEAN YOUR CLOCK in debate.”—‘New York Times,’ 7 February, page A19>
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Ken G – March 12, 2006
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cleaned his clock

Post by Ken Greenwald » Mon Mar 13, 2006 6:38 pm

James, A long time ago I used to believe that newspapers and news magazines reported the unvarnished, unbiased truth, except in editorials where it was OK to express an opinion. As the years went by I saw that what I thought was supposed to be raw news, was not, and was often flavored with the bias of the writer. I’m not sure if this is because I never noticed it in earlier days – maybe I was less aware – or because things have changed. My feeling is that it is because things have changed. As I listen to the nightly news or read a newspaper or magazine article, it is easy to notice the bias injected into what I once thought was supposed to be unbiased news, and it annoys me.

When is comes to a magazine, such as Time, and an article is written with the reporters name attached to it, however, it may be that such an article is not supposed to be perfectly neutral and that the writer has a right, and even is expected, to be expressing personal opinion.

In this Time article by reporter David Van Biema entitled ‘A Kiss of Judas,’ it is clear to me that the author is expressing his thoughts on the recently discovered long-lost 2nd century ‘Gospel of Judas’ as it has been called. I felt it was a well-balanced article in which he was playing devil’s advocate for the various opinions that might be drawn from the document. And, based on what this lost Gospel is purported to say, it seems perfectly reasonable for this Time author to have provided the supposition that he made, since that seems to be one possible take on what the document infers.

The recent headline “Possible Water Geysers Seen on Saturn Moon” by NASA probe Cassini also seems like a perfectly reasonable ‘possible/perhaps’ based on the evidence. So I see nothing wrong with this Time statement on two counts. 1) It is a bylined article, which, I think – but am not certain of what the byline rule book says – gives the author the license to express his opinions and 2) based on the translation of this 2nd century Coptic Egyptian manuscript, the ‘perhaps’ suggested may not be unreasonable.

Note; The ‘technically speaking’ line may be inferred from the thought that, although Judas may have ‘ratted’ on Jesus: “Judas was not guilty. He was necessary. Somebody had to betray Jesus. Judas was the victim of a design bigger than himself.”— quote by Vittorio Messori who has co-written books with Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI (when he was Cardinal Ratzinger).
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Ken G – March 13, 2006
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cleaned his clock

Post by Wizard of Oz » Mon Mar 13, 2006 8:34 pm

Ken Said:

Note; The ‘technically speaking’ line may be inferred from the thought that, although Judas may have ‘ratted’ on Jesus: “Judas was not guilty. He was necessary. Somebody had to betray Jesus. Judas was the victim of a design bigger than himself.”— quote by Vittorio Messori who has co-written books with Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI (when he was Cardinal Ratzinger).
.. this must rate as the ultimate example of that good old catch phrase .. I was just following orders .. I am not guilty. .. or with apologies to Laugh In .. "The devil .. I mean .. God made me do it !!"

WoZ of Aus 14/03/06
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cleaned his clock

Post by Ken Greenwald » Mon Mar 13, 2006 11:39 pm

Wiz, And I suppose you're one of those radical types who even believes in free will. (&lt)

Ken - March 13, 2006
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cleaned his clock

Post by Wizard of Oz » Tue Mar 14, 2006 12:11 am

.. Free Will .. NO !! .. but I will defend to the end his right to a fair trial ..

WoZ of Aus (Immediate past president of the Bill Posters Fair Trial committee)
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cleaned his clock

Post by Erik_Kowal » Tue Mar 14, 2006 8:25 am

I had hoped that by now we would be able to put the Oz trial behind us.
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cleaned his clock

Post by tony h » Thu Mar 16, 2006 3:48 pm

I have only just come to this debate but it really seems straightforward, the phrase having been in regular use amongst some of the more uncouth elements.

A clock is a "face" to "clean your clock" is figuratively to "wipe my fists all over your face" ie with the ease of cleaning. It is a threat of overwhelming odds or unrestrained, and effectively unopposed, aggression.
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With the right context almost anything can sound appropriate.

cleaned his clock

Post by Edwin Ashworth » Thu Mar 16, 2006 7:20 pm

Is this a wind-up?
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cleaned his clock

Post by Shelley » Thu Mar 16, 2006 7:38 pm

Now, don't be alarmed, Edwin Ashworth.
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Re: cleaned his clock

Post by PerfectMasterDW » Sat Sep 11, 2010 8:39 pm

Cassell's Dictionary of Slang gets it right, as noted in an earlier posting. This originates in railroad slang as, "clean the clock," meaning to bring the train to an abrupt halt. Brakes are applied fully by releasing all air pressure from the brake system, causing the pressure gauge needle to drop to the edge. This leaves the gauge face dramatically blank, and hence, "cleaned." Owing to the clock like appearance of these gauges, engineers often refer to them as "clocks." This colorful expression, "cleaned the clock," was picked up essentially unchanged as sports terminology, documented as far back as 1908, and specifically in the context of stopping all forward progress of a competing team. Shortened forms and expansion to mean any sort of dramatic defeat of an opponent evolved over some decades of time.

Those who equate a human face and timepiece clock face fail to demonstrate an etymological path, especially to necessarily link in "cleaning" as an essential element. Also, the specific meaning, to hit someone in the face, is a very recent evolution. These stretched arguments (and possibly later evolutions in usage) fail to recognize that the original expression has nothing whatsoever to do with a timepiece clock face. Citation of a 1904 writing by O. Henry using the phrase, "fix your clock," is clearly a non sequitur when read in full context.
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Re: cleaned his clock

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Sat Sep 11, 2010 11:26 pm

Egg on one's face was a perennial hazard, necessitating one to get one's clock cleaned, when egg-timers were more commonly used.
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Re: cleaned his clock

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sun Sep 12, 2010 1:36 am

Edwin, I notice that in 2008 you added the middle initial F to your Wordwizard ID. Does it stand for nothing in particular, like the S in Harry S. Truman, or is it more akin to Edwin F****** Ashworth? ;-)
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Re: cleaned his clock

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Sun Sep 12, 2010 8:06 am

I was apparently named after my grandfathers (one of who was a clock repairer): Edwin (Teddy) Ashworth, and Francis Julius Tietze. I eventually realised it could have been even worse - EJ.
Grandad Frank was the clock repairer.
After a longer-than-usual fight trying to get the computer to work (I think against a virus/antivirus program resource-snaffling coalition) in 2008, I thought I'd better re-register on WW, using a tweaked Moniker to avoid possible conflicts at the WW end.
Computer- rather than user- related conflicts, of course.
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