KEEP A STIFF UPPER LIP
Do you ever wonder where some terms come from? Recently, I read a novel where the hero was raised by his father to always “keep a stiff upper lip.” Consequently, he was out of touch with his feelings and nothing much moved him. So I decided to look into the background of this odd saying and here’s what I came up with:
In the early 1800’s a strange fashion arose among officers with regard to facial hair—they tarred their moustaches! These thick pelts over the upper lip became works of art. After an officer carefully groomed his moustache, he would then comb hot pitch through it and mold it into the desired shape. This had to be done quickly before the tar cooled and the moustache grew stiff. Then came their dress uniform complete with ribbons, gold braid, epaulettes and voila! they were the height of fashion.
“Keep a stiff upper lip” whispered by one officer into the ear of another meant their jaunty moustache was in the process of drooping. It was a rare exception for a military officer to hail from anything other than nobility. Since these men conducted themselves in a codified and rigid manner, soon, the term “keep a stiff upper lip” spread beyond the military to the rest of nobility. Eventually, the term filtered down to the general population and came to mean a show of inner strength and fortitude. Unfortunately, it also meant a man never wept, never displayed a sign of weakness and became remote with his feelings.