Put Up Your Dukes – Meaning, Usage and Origin

The meaning of an idiom can be deduced by simply studying the words that are used in the phrase. When saying “put up your dukes”, one might thing the literal translation would be to actually put forward a duke, as in a person of royalty; however, when used as an idiom, the phrase means to “put up your fists” to get ready for a fist fight.

For example, someone who is aggravated to the point that they want to engage in physical violence, they might say to the person they are arguing with “put up your dukes” to prepare to fight.

Examples of “put up your dukes” in a sentence

So, how can the idiom “put up your dukes” be used in a sentence? Here are a few examples that illustrate the appropriate use of this figure of speech:

  • I was so mad that I told the guy to “put up his dukes”!
  • If you’re going to keep talking like that, you better put up your dukes!
  • The guys were in such a heated debate and the next thing I knew, one guy yelled “put up your dukes!” to the other.
  • The kid got detention because he told another kid in the lunchroom to “put up his dukes”.

Those are just a few examples of how this figure of speech can be used in a sentence. As you can see, in each example, the term is used to invite someone to put up their fists so as to prepare for a physical altercation.

Origins of the phrase “put up your dukes”?

The word “dukes” means “hands or fists”. Since there doesn’t appear to be an obvious link between the words, it’s important to understand how “dukes” came to mean “hands” or “fists”.

The first documented use of the word “dukes” to mean “hands” was in the mid-1800s, in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Samuel E Chamberlain, an American soldier, used the word “dukes” in his 1859 memoir My Confession, recollections of a Rogue. The sentence in which he used the word is as follows:

I landed a stinger on his “potato strap” with my left “duke”, drawing the “Claret” and “sending him to grass”.

It is often said that the term “dukes” in reference to fists was derived from a Cockney rhyming slang, “Duke of Yorks” and “yorks” meant fingers or hands. It doesn’t seems like there would be a link between “yorks” and “forks” or “fingers”; however, “forks” was used as a slang term for “fingers/hands” since the 1700s. In the Etymological English Dictionary, which was written by Nathan Bailey in 1737, the word “forks” was recorded as a slang word for “pickpocket”.

Phrases/Idioms similar to “put up your dukes”

There are a few other terms that mean “put up your dukes”. Examples include:

  • I challenge you to a duel
  • Put up your fists
  • I challenge you to a fist fight
  • Put up or shut up

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