knock the spots off, to

knock the spots off, to

To defeat overwhelmingly or to excel. This term, which Ebenezer Brewer believed to come from target practice with playing cards, with the object of knocking out all the pips or spots from a card, dates from the mid-nineteenth century. “We did knock the spots off them that time,” wrote Henry Latham (Black and White, 1867), meaning we beat them, and Mark Twain wrote, “He knocked the spots out any acting ever I see before” (Huckleberry Finn, 1884), meaning he surpassed all others. It is currently heard less often than a similar expression, to knock someone’s socks off. A seemingly still more unlikely accomplishment, it, too, means to beat or trounce someone. Catherine Beecher used it in a letter in 1845: “You must knock the socks off those Old School folks!” More recently it has acquired another meaning, “to astonish” or “delight,” as in “The special effects in that movie will knock your socks off.”
See also: knock, spot
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