Stifle, already!

By Maeve Maddox

Reader Brad Kruse came across this comment from the reader of a rabidly anti-health insurance reform site:

die eisernen Stiefel (the iron jackboots) of Obamistas are methodically and systematicly [sic] destroying the very core of our country.

Brad’s question has to do with the German word Stiefel, not politics:

What I noticed was Steifel.  As in the old Archie Bunker, “Stifle yourself, Edith!” Does ‘stifle’ come from ‘boot’, as in “put a boot in it?”

No, there’s no connection between German Stiefel and English stifle. The boot-in-the-mouth image, however, certainly suits Archie’s personality.

The word stifle has been in English with the sense of “to choke, suffocate, drown” since 1387. It may have entered English by way of Old French estouffer, “to stifle, smother.” The French word in turn may derive from a Germanic source: Old High German stopfen, “to plug up, stuff.” Archie’s metaphorical sense of the word has been around since 1577.

The expression eisernen Stiefel, literally “iron boot” is usually translated into English as jackboot. A “jackboot” is a type of strong high boot without laces worn by farmers, motorcycle riders and soldiers. Because such boots were part of the Nazi uniforms in WW II, “jackboot” has taken on metaphorical associations with totalitarian government.

Speaking figuratively, “jackboot tactics” are brutal and oppressive methods of control exercised by totalitarian dictators.

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2 Responses to “Stifle, already!”

  • Niall

    Is Brad confusing the expressions ‘put a boot in it’ and ‘put a sock in it’?

    In the UK at least, to’ put the boot in’ is to metaphorically assault someone, usually when they are virtually defeated anyway; telling someone to ‘put a sock in it’ is telling them to shut up.

  • Silke

    It’s stopfen, not stopfon. 🙂

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