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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?

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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 E. 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
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.)

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