knock into a cocked hat



A cocked hat is one with the brim turned up to form two or three points (a bicorn or tricorn). The verb may refer:

  • to someone or something being knocked or hit out of shape like such a hat,[1] or a person having a cocked hat forced on to their head;[2][3] or
  • to a person knocking down all but three pins in a game of ninepins,[4] or to the similar game called “cocked hat” in which only three pins are set up in a triangle, although these may simply be allusions to the shape of a tricorn. It has been pointed out that evidence linking these games to the verb is lacking.[3][5]



knock into a cocked hat (third-person singular simple present knocks into a cocked hat, present participle knocking into a cocked hat, simple past and past participle knocked into a cocked hat)

  1. (transitive, originally US, colloquial, dated) To beat up or seriously injure (a person); to badly damage (a thing).
    Synonym: beat into a cocked hat
    • 1830 November 13, “A rencounter. From the Connersville, Ind. Political Clarion.”, in Frederick-Town Herald, volume XXIX, number 27, Fredericktown, Md.: [] William Ogden Niles, OCLC 9672044, page 4, column 3:
      Tho' I'll tell ye what, stranger, I'm none your mealy mouthed fellows, and I'm little jubus [dubious] that you're one of them there [John Quincy] Adams men. And I've just seen the time that I'd knock sich a fellow into a cocked hat as quick as name it. But [Andrew] Jackson is safe enough and he's jist the chickin what's able; Adams is done for til he's made over.
    • 1832, [James Kirke Paulding], “A Voyage, a Story, and a Land Adventure”, in Westward Ho! [], volume I, New York, N.Y.: [] J[ames] & J[ohn] Harper, [], OCLC 70613583, page 123:
      [] I jumped up and told Tom a short horse was soon curried, and I'd knock him into a cocked-hat if he said another word. And that broke up the conversation.
    • 1833 June 27, Charles Gordon Greene, editor, The Boston Morning Post, volume IV, number 90, Boston, Mass.: Charles Gordon Greene, OCLC 2258525, page 2, column 3:
      A N. York paper giving the details of a riot which occurred in that city, says that "a person was struck with a brick-bat, and knocked into a wheel-barrow." We have before heard of persons being "knocked into a grease spot," and of others who had been threatened with being "knocked into a cocked hat," but this is the first time we ever heard of any one being "knocked into a wheel barrow."
    • 1840 February, Edgar A[llan] Poe, “Peter Pendulum, the Business Man”, in William E[vans] Burton and Edgar Allan Poe, editors, Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine and American Monthly Review, volume VI, number II, Philadelphia, Pa.: William E. Burton, [], OCLC 2258790, page 87:
      [A] fortunate accident [] happened to me when I was a very little boy. A good-hearted old Irish nurse (whom I shall not forget in my will) took me up one day by the heels, when I was making more noise than was necessary, and, swinging me round two or three times, d——d my eyes for "a skreeking little spalpeen," and then knocked my head into a cocked hat against the bed-post. This, I say, decided my fate, and made my fortune.
    • 1855 September, [Lewis Gaylord Clark], “Editor’s Table”, in Lewis Gaylord Clark, editor, The Knickerbocker, or New-York Monthly Magazine, volume XLVI, number 3, New York, N.Y.: Samuel Hueston, [], OCLC 1650862, page 328:
      A German astronomer says, that in twenty millions of years the earth will be destroyed by a comet! People may doubt and jeer at the idea: but wait till the time comes, and you’ll see that prophet, as the comet whisks along, knocking the earth into acocked hat,’ hanging by its tail, exclaiming, ‘I told you so, I told you so!’ But who will hear him?
    • 1904 July 9 and 16, Gilbert K[eith] Chesterton, “The Eccentric Seclusion of the Old Lady”, in The Club of Queer Trades, New York, N.Y.; London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, published April 1905, OCLC 10768944, page 247:
      Basil sprang up with dancing eyes, and with three blows like battering-rams knocked the footman into a cocked hat.
  2. (transitive, chiefly Britain, colloquial, figuratively) To completely demolish, nullify, overthrow, or otherwise defeat (a person; an argument, idea, or proposition; or a thing).
    Synonym: beat into a cocked hat
    All the original ideas we had were knocked into a cocked hat by the latest survey.
    • 1853, Vidi [pseudonym], chapter XII, in Mr. Frank, the Underground Mail-agent, Philadelphia, Pa.: Lippincott, Grambo & Co., OCLC 850628, page 146:
      "That's a fact," said the Kentuckian, "and knocks all his fine arguments into a cocked hat. Jist a minute ago I tho't slavery wall all right, and now I see it's all wrong, and has no kinder sort o' foundation.["]
    • 1884 October 25, “Never Write on Your Cuffs”, in Tid-bits: From All Sources [], volume I, number 10, New York, N.Y.: John W. Lovell Company, OCLC 8755486, page 146, column 2:
      "The fact is," said Jim Keene, the great New York rival to Jay Gould, "that no matter how clever and thorough a man's system of stock operating may be, there is always occurring some little unforeseen and apparently insignificant circumstance that is forever knocking the best laid-out plans into a cocked hat."
    • 1888 January 26, “Lord Brassey on imperial defence”, in The Pall Mall Gazette: An Evening Newspaper and Review, volume XLVII, number 7133, London: [] Richard Lambert, [], OCLC 18090232, page 9, column 1:
      A frigate of the modern type would knock a fort armed with obsolete guns into a cocked hat.
    • 1935, Richard Evelyn Byrd Jr., “The Lunatic Fringe”, in Discovery: The Story of the Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition, paperback edition, Lanham, Md.; London: Rowman & Littlefield, published 2015, →ISBN, page 195:
      And you guess the end of the world will probably look like that, [] with all things at last in equilibrium, the winds quiet, the sea frozen, the sky composed, and the earth in glacial quietude. Or so you fancy. Then along comes a walloping blizzard and knocks such night dreaming into a cocked hat.
    • 1936 April, H[enry] L[ouis] Mencken, “The Future of the Language”, in The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States, 4th edition, New York, N.Y.: Alfred A[braham] Knopf, OCLC 1199075656, page 607:
      In its early forms it [English] was a highly inflected tongue – indeed, it was more inflected than modern German, and almost as much so as Russian. [] The impact of the [Norman] Conquest knocked this elaborate grammatical structure into a cocked hat.
    • 1971 August, Charles F. Treat, “The Great Metric Crusade (1914–1933)”, in A History of the Metric System Controversy in the United States: U.S. Metric Study Interim Report [] (National Bureau of Standards Special Publication; 345-10), Washington, D.C.: National Bureau of Standards, United States Department of Commerce, OCLC 2302332, page 195:
      Unlike the supporters of metric adoption, the opponents did not have to wage a campaign to accomplish their goal. All they had to do was knock into a cocked hat the claims advanced by the "reformers."
    • 2011, Larry Karp, chapter 1, in A Perilous Conception, Scottsdale, Ariz.: Poisoned Pen Press, →ISBN, page 4:
      I thought I knew what to do about it, and had figured to sit down with Giselle after the conference to get her on board. But that idea had been knocked into a cocked hat along with the conference.
    • 2012, W. Brewster Willcox, “A Two-horse Horserace”, in The Power of Paradox, [Bloomington, Ind.]: Xlibris, →ISBN, part II (The Search for the Higgs and Why It Matters), pages 27–28:
      If every particle has a corresponding anti-particle, as the Standard Model asserts, the question arises, Where has all the antimatter gone? Saying that's just the way it happens to be, doesn't satisfy many scientists. And it knocks into a cocked hat the whole Standard Model, which to this point, he [Martin Beech] assures us, has been "highly successful in describing the observed particle zoo."



  1. ^ E[benezer] Cobham Brewer, “Knocked into a Cocked Hat”, in Dictionary of Phrase and Fable [], new edition, London; Paris: Cassell and Company, 1895, OCLC 867351699, page 716, column 2: “A cocked-hat, folded into a chapeau bras [bicorn], is crushed out of all shape.”
  2. ^ See, for example, [William Alexander Caruthers], “V. Chevillere to B. Randolph”, in The Kentuckian in New-York. Or, The Adventures of Three Southeners. [], volume I, New York, N.Y.: Harper & Brothers, [], 1834, OCLC 694111337, page 220:
    Now I wish my head may be knocked into a cocked-hat, if a man had told this to me of the Yorkers in old Kentuck, if I wouldn't have thought he was spinnin long yarns; []
  3. 3.0 3.1 Pascal Tréguer, “Meaning and Origin of ‘to Knock into a Cocked Hat’”, in Word Histories[1], retrieved 16 February 2021, archived from the original on 27 September 2020.
  4. ^ E[benezer] Cobham Brewer, “Cocked Hat”, in Dictionary of Phrase and Fable [], new edition, London; Paris: Cassell and Company, 1895, OCLC 867351699, page 270, column 1.
  5. ^ Gary Martin, “Knocked into a cocked hat”, in The Phrase Finder, 1997–.

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