The British news at the moment is full of talk of "soaking the rich". I forget which party is meant to be doing it, as I have no interest in parties not of the birthday variety. But the rich, it appears, are to be soaked sodden. This is rather odd when you think about it. Who are these soaking rich, and why are they so very, very moist?
The answer, it appears, is that they aren't wet at all. Soaking the rich goes back to 1935 when F.D. Roosevelt was accused of soaking the rich with his taxes. The OED has:
He thought he was being ‘clever’ when he tried to steal Huey Long's thunder by suddenly coming out with his ‘soak the rich’ tax message.
The Americans had been using the word soak to mean overcharge or extort money since at least 1895. But it has nothing to do with moisture. It's to do with hitting people.
Ever since 1699 people have been using the word sock to mean hit, beat, pummel, punch or bash. Often a mysterious it is inserted as in "sock it to him". The Americans, for some reason best known to the Americans, decided to start using soak for sock. So in 1892 they could say:
To-day's Washington Post ‘soaks’ it to the Southern Democrats in the House
And just as you can be hit for money, or stung for money, so you can be soaked, or socked, for money. So they're soaking [it to] the rich.
There's even a lovely Mark Twain line from 1883 where you can see the word just tipping over. In The Art of Inhumation a salesman says:
Why, just look at it. A rich man won’t have anything but your very best; and you can just pile it on, too—pile it on and sock it to him—he won’t ever holler.
And that, dear reader, proves that a chap can be soaked dry.
By taxing umbrellas