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A real cock up

Posted by James Briggs on June 09, 2003

In Reply to: A real cock up posted by walter on June 09, 2003

: any one know this one

Here's what I'v found out/been offered over the years - none really certain:

To cock up something indicates that there has been a bungle or mess up but not a disaster in a project. The source here is obscure. The saying has sexual overtones but would hardly be used in the way that it is if this were so. It is said that "cock up" is an innocent expression meaning "error" used by printers and others, including poachers. This latter group could well be the true origin since it is claimed that, if you startle a pheasant that you're stalking, then it will squawk and the noise sounds like "Cock up". A second possibility suggests an origin based on "cocking" a flintlock pistol. If not cocked up there was likely to be a disaster when the trigger was pulled. To be cock sure comes from this source but otherwise I'm not impressed.
A third suggestion comes from archery. The arrows of traditional English long bows had three feathers. One of these, named the "cock" feather, had to be positioned away from the line of the bow string, otherwise it would hit the string and affect the flight of the arrow to produce a "cock up".
In December 2002 Terry Instone offered the following: "...May I contribute a fourth possibility for cock-up (which I heard many years ago)? When a fermented barrel of wine is ready to be run-off for bottling, a stop-cock is driven into the barrel and a sample is tasted to check for quality. If the wine has turned sour, the cock is twisted upside down showing that the barrel is not to be used - hence.... "

See also: the meaning and origin of 'cock-up'.