Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

If you 'wipe the floor with' someone, you defeat them easily. Searching on Google, I can only see explanations of what this idiom means, but not how it came about. What caused people to start using this phrase in this way?

share|improve this question
    
I can guess, but I have no proof: I bet it's to do with bar brawls, in so far as a bar's floor always needs cleaning, and once you've incapacitated someone, you can then clean the floor with them. –  Matt Эллен Jul 19 '11 at 11:07
    
I could buy the literal explanation above, but could it not just be likening the defeated person to a dirty rag; worthy only of wiping muck off the floor? I'm sure with a bit of thought, all kinds of "smack talk" can be thought of along those lines. "He made him his bitch" for instance, suggesting the defeated is now a servant or similar in that connotation. –  Brendon Jul 19 '11 at 11:37

1 Answer 1

up vote 7 down vote accepted

According to A dictionary of slang, jargon and cant by Barrère and Leland (1897), it means that "one man has thrashed another so completely as to have taken him like a broom or mop, and swept or cleaned the floor with him."

(Rather cheekily, both usage examples there are from poems by Leland himself.)

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.