In History, Sport, Words

Are you hanging up your stocking on the wall?
Are you stocking up in case we crash out of the EU with no deal at aaaall?
Are you wondering if the two words
Are connected in some way?
Are you asking yourself whether, had they gone with these lyrics, it would have been such a perennial Christmas hit for Slaaaaaade?

So here it is Merry Christmas everybody’s having fun…

Before I move on to verse two, let me clear up the stocking question. It begins, as most things do, with football.

Three vivid memories live with me from my first ever football match. It was Crystal Palace v Everton in 1969, so nothing of the actual game sticks in my mind, but what I will never forget was the spectacle of the pitch as I emerged from the bowels of the stadium: so green! I’ve loved that moment of emergence at sports stadia ever since. Freud would have a field day.

“And the stockings?” you ask.

Another vivid memory was the crowd surges among the Everton fans on the Whitehorse Lane terrace, who had presumably heard a rumour that their club was going to win something in about 15 years time. “Were they wearing stockings?” No, not in those days. But according to the match programme, the players were. Blue shirts, white shorts, white stockings. I had visions of Steve Kember and Alan Ball going into a tackle and getting their suspenders hooked together. Not pretty.

Fortunately, it turned out that football’s administrators were just clinging on to a bit of archaic terminology, as is their wont. They’re still clinging on to the Offside Law. Footballers in stockings was one of those features of my youth, like The Magic Roundabout and Peters and Lee, that seemed to have been contrived to keep children in a mollified state of bafflement.

A hundred years earlier, when football was just getting its act together, stocking was the word for any sort of leg covering – knee length, thigh length or all the way up – for either sex. It came from a 13th century slang word, ‘stocks’, meaning legs, which in turn came from the Old English ‘stocc’, meaning a stump or tree trunk. From this source stemmed all the meanings of stock and stocking that we use today.

This symbolic tree trunk gave us stock as in ancestry (family tree), bloodstock and a holding of money or commodities (stocks and shares, livestock, paper stock, film stock, stock cars). It also gave us the stock you make by boiling your turkey carcass to form the basis of soups etc. As a lump of wood it gave us the stock of a gun – lock, stock and barrel – the stocks (medieval implement of public humiliation still advocated for people who fly drones over airports) and the expression stock still (as in aeroplanes at Gatwick).

And as the slang for a leg, it gave us stockings, which was the word used for all kinds of leg wear right up until the 20th century, when fashions changed and its definition narrowed to the hosiery worn specifically by ladies and bank robbers. It’s not recommended that you hang these up for Santa, though… unless you want a ladder for Christmas. Ho-ho!

Merry Christmas everybody.

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