Have you ever wondered why the Red Sox are the "Red Sox" instead of the "Red Socks"? I'm sure you have because you've also probably wondered about what to call a singular player on the team. Is he a "Red Sox" or a "Red Sock"? Well, I have some answers for you.
Noah Webster was born in Connecticut in 1758, and while attending Yale, he also fought in the American Revolutionary War. Unable to initially afford law school, Webster became a teacher, and these years as a teacher greatly influenced his life and American history.
You see, after fighting in a war with Britain to gain independence from Britain, the United States has never really been "independent" of Britain. Once the country gained its independence, it still needed all sorts of things from Britain -- manufactured goods, spices (from the rest of the British Empire), a stable banking system, etc. The US could never really separate itself from the strongest country in the world, and the fledgling country even benefited from the connection.
There was still quite a bit of resentment, however. The US longed to make itself a separate identity, and one of those areas became the English language. While teaching, Webster hated the American school system. It was overcrowded, underfunded, and, worst of all, it used British textbooks. His initial book, A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, was a three-volume text published in 1783 that included, of course, the first American dictionary called the Blue-backed Speller (the colloquial term anyway; it underwent about 400 name changes). Instead of a traditional dictionary as we understand it, this was more of a textbook, teaching students the basics of spelling and its general rules.
Webster began writing a dictionary, as we understand it today, in 1807, and it would take him 27 years to complete. It would become The American Dictionary of the English Language, and the title was key. Webster wanted the American English language to differentiate itself from British English. Why this was is up for some debate. Was it because the English spelling rules were too complex? Or did Webster hold a grudge against the British and wanted an "American" language? I'm not qualified to answer that, but the end result is the same -- the language changed.
You ever wonder why we spell "color" instead of "colour"? "Wagon" instead of "waggon"? "Center" instead of "centre"? Well, you can thank Mr. Webster.
But what does this have to do with the Red Sox? He died in 1843, and most people didn't even know who he was at that time in history (I doubt most people know who he is today). Ah, but here's where you need to know a little more US history. For as much as this country is known as the "Land of the Free" and as a melting pot (it's more of a tossed salad if you ask me), it's had a strange and evolving definition of who is "free" and who gets melted into the pot. Nativist movements (xenophobic movements) have been a large part of American history. Just 11 short years after the Constitutional Congress of 1787, John Adams proclaimed the Alien and Sedition Acts in part to prevent French influence at the start of the French Revolution (which we sparked, by the way). The mid-1800s saw the Know Nothings who were alarmed at the amount of German and Irish Catholics immigrating to the country. And the late 19th century was riddled with immigration restrictions that tried to prevent "undesirables" (religious, political, and economic radicals or Asians, mainly Chinese) from gaining entrance to the country. What this did was foment the idea of being "American" and making an American identity. So again, how does this pertain to the Red Sox?
Well, the "patriotic" movement spread to all parts of society, and because language is a powerful tool for any government and a common thing which everyone uses, Webster's ideas resurfaced. People began shortening words in order to a) make them easier to spell, to b) further differentiate American English from British English (also spoken by those terrible Irish Catholics), and to c) utilize in propoganda. The actual transformation of the word "socks" to "sox" is difficult to pinpoint, but when the John Taylor (owner of the Red Sox) named the team in 1907, he called it the Red Sox to shorten the colloquial "Red Stockings" name for the team. "Sox" was simply the spelling that had become common at this point in time.
The spelling campaign, and many other nativist movements, began to die down after WWI. The country was tired of fighting and just wanted peace, and any "undesirables" just assimilated to avoid the chaos of the 1910s. Over time, the spelling of "sox" reverted back to "socks", but by the time it did, the Red Sox and White Sox weren't going to change their names. Funny enough, I think the reversion had to do with one of the first questions I asked at the beginning, though not specifically (it probably had nothing to do with the baseball team, just a word inside the nickname). What is a singular player on the "Red Sox" called?
Red Sox or Red Socks, the grammatically correct way is to call him a "Red Sock"
I would like to thank this article from Slade. It was very helpful, but I thought it left some things out that I brought in here. This article was spawned by the very fun HBT chat and my roommate asking the big question.