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Old 02-10-2006, 06:55 PM
The Turtle Moves!
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Join Date: May 2003
Location: SoCal
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What is the origin of "getting one's clock cleaned?"

As in getting smashed, broken, heeled, beat up etc. I just noticed samclem use this phrase, and started to parse it. Wouldn't getting your clock cleaned make it run smoother? Is that the original meaning? To take one to task so their mental facilities start clicking?
Old 02-10-2006, 07:03 PM
Join Date: Apr 1999
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I always understood the idea to be that cleaning a clock would require taking it completely apart.
Old 02-10-2006, 07:09 PM
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 857
Here's what the folks at Phrase Finder have to say:

Two (speculative) ideas: the threat to hit someone in the face, since clockfaces have long been associated with human faces. Second, threatening a blow so violent it would blow the dust off the gears and inner mechanism of a clock, a veiled reference to shaking up the brain enough to scramble your senses. Pure guesswork.
Old 02-10-2006, 07:19 PM
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 5,760
i misread the thread title and expected a totally different subject.
Old 02-10-2006, 08:23 PM
Graphite is a great
Join Date: Aug 1999
Location: Akron, Ohio
Posts: 25,775
It's a WWII era phrase. I just found a cite from 1946.

Evan Morris gives a pretty good read on the term, although he wasn't aware of my finding a cite which predated the 1959 one from RHDAS.

Last edited by samclem; 02-11-2006 at 12:58 AM.
Old 02-10-2006, 11:51 PM
Join Date: Nov 2000
Location: Montreal, QC
Posts: 56,141
Originally Posted by CynicalGabe
i misread the thread title and expected a totally different subject.
Why would you want your dock cleaned? Have too many overexicted seamen made it slippery?
Old 02-11-2006, 12:06 AM
Join Date: Feb 2004
Location: Omicron Persei 8
Posts: 2,147
I am glad you brought this up silenus. In High School I had an Asst. Principal leave the back of the auditorium to take a seat behind me, lean forward and say in a hushed voice "Keep it up and I'm gonna clean your clock!"
Without another word, he got up and returned to his post.
I sat in a somewhat shocked silence because:
Firstly, to this day I have no idea of what I could possibly have done to get this reaction (I got into A LOT of trouble in school but this time I wasn't doing anything)
B) WTF does Clean Your Clock mean? My clock?
3) High Opal!

This is one of those little things that continued to dwell in the back recesses of my mind. Now there is one less.
Old 02-11-2006, 03:53 AM
Join Date: Aug 2001
Location: Ass end of Alberta
Posts: 17,897
From the Word Detective:
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. 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.
Looking at this, I would suggest:

"Fixing someone's clock," as idiom for killing someone makes perfect sense. The sense of "fix" here is not that of "to repair," but "to make stationary." To stop their clock. This is a totally natural metaphor for death. Like the 19th Century poem/song by Henry Clay Work:
My grandfather's clock
Was too large for the shelf,
So it stood ninety years on the floor;
It was taller by half
Than the old man himself,
Though it weighed not a pennyweight more.
It was bought on the morn
Of the day that he was born,
And was always his treasure and pride;

But it stopped short
Never to go again,
When the old man died.
If the expression was originally "fix your clock," it seems probable that people would repeat it but misunderstand it as "repair your clock." If you've replaced the idea with damaging the clock with that of servicing it, the change to "Clean your clock" is natural -- it has a pleasing alliteration that "Fix your clock" lacks -- although "Fix your clock" makes more sense as a threat of harm.
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