Posted by Victoria S Dennis on October 22, 2005
In Reply to: Box your ears posted by ESC on October 21, 2005
: : : : : My friend and I are having a disagreement regarding a definition your site used for the term 'box your ears'.
: : : : : The answer was:
: : : : : It means someone -- usually a parent -- uses both hands to smack a child (or other unlucky person) up side both sides of his/her head at the same time.
: : : : : Think cymbols clashing together with a head in between.
: : : : : I contend that this action includes the ears. In other words, the 'cymbol' action coming together at or on the ears (being on the side of the head).
: : : : : My friend insists the ears aren't involved and that since it would break an eardrum that the phrase only means to smack someone upside the head without involving the ears (meaning more towards the back of the head). I know it's a silly arguement, but, we really need a resolution.
: : : : I can say from personal experience that having your ears "boxed" does involve the ears. And my eardrums did not burst.
: : : Box is the same verb as in the sport of boxing, a hit or slap or punch with the hand or fist. So "box your ears" is a blow to the ears. I believe the hitting-both-ears simultaneously notion is a bit too narrowly defined. One could deliver a blow to one ear and then the other in sequence; it would still qualify as boxing one's ears. American football rules prohibit a simultaneous slap to the earholes of the opponent's helmet: once legal, it was banned because eardrums were injured by the sudden air pressure concussion.
: : I don't think there is any justification at all for defining "box someone's ears" as "to slap both ears simultaneously".
: : The noun "box" (defined by the OED as "a slap or cuff on the ear or side of the head" has been used in the singular ("a box on the ear") since the 15th century
: : Any number of historical and literary characters have been recorded as "boxing someone's ears". For example, in 1598 the Earl of Essex offended Queen Elizabeth I; eyewitnesses reported that Good Queen Bess promptly "boxed his ears". This certainly means that she smacked him over each ear in turn - biff, baff. She surely didn't perform an American football foul on him!
: In my part of the United States, it means using both hands and smacking both ears at the same time. I can't address how the phrase in the other parts of the world.
That's very interesting. It's certainly not used in that way in Britain, where it now has a rather archaic flavour. Evidently it has taken on a new lease of life in the US by adapting its meaning!
(By the way, when you smack someone "upside the head", which way do you strike? Up from below, or down from above? "Upside" doesn't exist in Britain; I have encountered it in American writing and wondered what it meant exactly.) VSD