set ‘em up, knock ‘em down
Posted: 27 January 2008 02:22 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I’ve just written this in the “dickey bow” thread, and wonder who said it first?

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Posted: 28 January 2008 09:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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The OED2 has this sense for “set up” from 1950: “To bring (someone) to a position from which he may be knocked down, to make vulnerable (lit., as in Pugilism); fig. (colloq. and slang), to lead on in order to fool, cheat, or incriminate (a person); to ‘frame’. orig. U.S., but none of the citations actually include “knock them down” or equivalent phrases.  The nearest I could find to such a pairing was this:
1879 M. J. GUEST Lect. Hist. Eng. xlvii. 477 Judges..were almost tools of the king, who could set them up and put them down at his pleasure.

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Posted: 28 January 2008 07:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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At a guess, the original reference was to bowling or a similar game. I see a number of examples of figurative expressions from before 1860.

Here’s one from 1831 (from Google Books):  //Did he not quiver at the mere name of this Warwick, this king-killer, and king-maker; this John Randolph, who had set up Presidents, as boys set up nine-pins, to knock them down again?//

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Posted: 29 January 2008 05:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Judges..were almost tools of the king, who could set them up and put them down at his pleasure.

- and the Magnificat says: He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree (Luke 1.52).

We speak also of setting up chessmen on a board. I think we see roughly the same metaphor behind all these uses.

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