If I had the pen of a Napier, or a Bell's Life, I should like to describe this combat properly. It was the last charge of the Guard—(that is, it would have been, only Waterloo had not yet taken place)—it was Ney's column breasting the hill of La Haye Sainte, bristling with ten thousand bayonets, and crowned with twenty eagles—it was the shout of the beef-eating British, as leaping down the hill they rushed to hug the enemy in the savage arms of battle—in other words, Cuff coming up full of pluck, but quite reeling and groggy, the Fig-merchant put in his left as usual on his adversary's nose, and sent him down for the last time.

(from Vanity Fair)

And if so, what does it mean?

Couldn't Thackeray have just said "[he] put ... on his adversary's nose?"

Why the need for "in"?

  • I can't find an authority recognising this usage, but 'He put in a couple of handy left jabs' rings a few bells from when my grandfather used to watch boxing on TV many years ago. Phrasal verb? 'Put in' is certainly pretty unitary here. 'He landed ... ' would work as a more formal paraphrase. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 3 '17 at 11:33
  • @EdwinAshworth There must me some dictionary that has this usage recorded. The usual dictionaries give the phrasal verb "to put [something] in," of course, but none of the meanings listed there seems to be a perfect fit for this one here. I know it is "old" English, but I nevertheless want to know what it means exactly, dictionary-wise. Thanks for your explanation. – ΥΣΕΡ26328 Apr 3 '17 at 11:39
  • There are few obvious hits turning up in reasonable Google searches. I've found one for "He put in a couple of shots where the goalie got the ball", which is closer than the common 'Jack put in a couple of hours on the garden' etc. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 3 '17 at 12:42

The phrasal verb "put in" is somewhat similar to a usage like

He put in nine hours at work today

in the sense of making a contribution, but context makes it clear it's not helping an adversary, it's making an effort to help his own side.

It's also a bit like "to put in" a piece that fits in to e.g. a puzzle, or in this case a fist that fits in to adversary's face.

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