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I read the 11 Nov. 1978 panel of Garfield, in which the phrase "have got it knocked" is used. Transcript:

Panel 1

[Garfield is in bed but mobile]

Garfield: Oh-oh. I feel a nap attack coming on

Panel 2

[Garfield suddenly assumes an immobile, sleeping position]

Panel 3

[Garfield peeks from under covers]

"Turtles have got it knocked"

On my own, I thought this was another phrase for "have (got) it (all) figured out," by which I mean something like "one has established an appealing but possibly theoretical model for achieving some end." Citing AHD 4th ed., TFD provides this definition for have it knocked:

have it knocked Slang

To be certain of success: "He knew he had it knocked after he saw a rough cut of Chinatown" (Time).

Strikingly similar definitions can be found for the related phrases have it made (Dictionary.com based on Random House Dictionary: to be assured or confident of success) and have it made in the shade (TFD citing McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs 2002: to have succeeded; to be set for life).

For each but have it knocked I can find reasons to satisfy my curiosity about why its ending might be chosen:

  • Figured out is an idiom by itself meaning to begin to comprehend someone or something
  • Made can be used figuratively to mean assured of success or fortune: a made man.
  • Made in the shade rhymes with the above, retaining its meaning while emphasizing the subject's present comfort

I suspect knocked may come from sports, where knock has a sense of finality and success: In boxing, a knock-out means a win; likewise in baseball, knocking a ball out of the park is used to indicate a good hit. But it seems odd to me that out would be omitted, because in the mentioned phrases it emphasizes the action's success and finality.

To measure the likelihood of these guesses, I am interested in the origin of the phrase have it knocked. I could not find a date like the 1955 Etymology.com provides for have it made. Derivations, if found, are also welcome.

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As far as I can tell, the phrase doesn't appear until the 1960s.

It's used by Michael Herr in Dispatches (p 92), where he quotes a young American soldier in Vietnam saying, "Man, when I get home, I'll have it knocked." The date of 1968 is given on page 87.

It also appears in a transcript of an interview with steelworker Dick Hughes, conducted sometime between 1975 and 1987, by Michael Frisch, published in 'A Shared Authority: Essays on the Craft and Meaning of Oral and Public History'. It appears as "... once you get those years, then you're gonna have it knocked..."The dates are on pp 87-88. The quote is on p 110.

It appears in Water Ski magazine in 1988 - 'When you can back the trailer in a long, straight line, you have it knocked.

There seem to be three possible derivations: knock down/off/back (sports, or aggressive retaliatory action, eg knocking a ball back, or knocking a hat off a head, knocking a person down) from whence the metaphoric knock down (bargaining, stock prices - where an upward trend is reversed), and knock down (auctions - where an upward trend is halted).

Incidentally, there is no record on the Time website of the phrase cited in TFD, quoted above: 'He knew he had it knocked after he saw a rough cut of Chinatown'. It would be interesting to know what date this appeared.

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This is pure speculation but another possible origin is the archery term nock which refers to the notches used to position the bowstring (both in the bow and in the arrow). To "nock an arrow" is to have the arrow well seated on the string and pulled taught, ready to fire. Since the term appears to have started in the 1960's it is possible the term was spawned by another 60's slang term: "in the groove" which means doing something very well. Having an arrow ready is having the bowstring in the nock (groove) firmly and accurately. Thus to "have it [k]nocked" might mean to be performing something very well.

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