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  • Writer's pictureHanky

Put a Sock in it!

No, of course the above advice - often given as a snidy remark - is not intended for those carollers that go around proclaiming “Peace-on-Earth” and

regaling us with Christmas stories and music.

The advice is usually aimed at stopping the voluminous flow of words emanating from someone’s mouth, especially when that flow consists of abusive and objectionable language. And whilst we’ve never actually seen anyone taking the advice seriously and literally start chewing on their pedestal garment (even idiots have their limits!) we believe there may be a deeper, long-forgotten meaning to this saying. So the Spuzzum Institute of Technology decided to carry out extensive research into this footwear-in-mouth expression. Read on .....

The earliest references to a “cloth-in-cakehole” phenomenon were found around the year 490 AUC (= 263 BC)(*) at the start of the first of the Punic wars (between Rome and Carthago). For the next few hundred years, two sayings keep popping up in battlefield reports and comments. The first one “Manageriat Tunica” could be translated in modern English as “keep your shirt on” - or “don’t let it bother you” - probably referring to scary, bloody situations and experiences. The second one “(Non) Tunica Mangeri” means either “do” or “do not eat your tunica”. Apparently it was common practice that people, when faced with grave danger, would stuff their tunica in their mouth to stifle any screams and foul language. Remember that the tunica was the under-shirt or -vest, in other words part of one’s underwear, which often was already badly soiled by regular wear and/or bowel functions, yet was considered good enough to prevent the mouth from screaming and cursing during any terrifying experience. This was especially true for those early christians, when having to face the hungry lions, would choose to chew on their (dirty) tunicas rather than utter a bad word, believing that “it is not what goes into the mouth, but what comes out of it, that defiles a man”.

In the Early Days

until about 500 AD, most people would walk around barefoot, as only the wealthier could afford expensive footwear like sandals and boots (like the Roman caligulae). But once the sock (or stocking) was invented, it rapidly became the foot covering of choice for the millions of people who could not afford the much more expensive leather products. And the elite welcomed the sock as protection from the chafing when wearing their leather footwear. And as more and more socks became available another phenomenon occurred - the sock began to replace the tunica as the favoured mouth stuffing - socks were a nice bite size and generally cleaner, whereas underwear was bulky and gross, causing overstuffing and gagging.

In the Middle Ages

the use of socks as footwear had become quite common. But as “head-gear” the sock had undergone a major change. It was no longer being applied as a mouth-stuffer to stop bad things from coming out, but more as a mouth-cover to stop bad stuff - like the bubonic plague - from coming in. In the 14th century many people started wearing socks pulled over their heads to hide from the grim reaper and close their mouth and nose from breathing in that infectious flu-like disease known as Black Death (not related to BLM). It shows that more than 500 years ago the saying “Put a Sock in it!” had become a stern advice to wear a masking sock (photo far left) during that pandemic which killed millions of people, but it never got mandated - until 2020 that is.

In the Present

In the middle ages (and for centuries thereafter) all socks were knitted of wool, so that when people started to wear socks over their head, it gave rise to a new saying: “Pulling the wool over one’s eyes”, a literal description of a sock wearer’s action. When, in the 19th century, actual mouth and eye openings were incorporated in the head-socks, then called balaclava, and when a greater variety of materials and designs were being used for mask production. the secondary meaning of that saying was maintained - masks were considered menacing and misleading and the wearing of same in financial institutes was absolutely forbidden - again, until 2020 that is.

Today we have “specialty” socks,

known as Christmas stockings,

which are to be hung, not worn.

May they be filled with all

your whishes and may the

joy and peace of Christmas

be with you all

throughout the New Year.

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