stiff upper lip

Having a stiff upper lip is considered the quintessential British quality of resolution in the face of adversity. But surprisingly, the phrase itself is an American import to Britain.

The phrase first appears in the pages of the newspaper the Massachusetts Spy on 14 June 1815:

I kept a stiff upper lip, and bought [a] license to sell my goods.

Nova Scotian writer and politician Thomas C. Haliburton uses it in his 1837 novel The Clockmaker:

Its a proper pity sich a clever woman should carry such a stiff upper lip.

And it appears in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin:

“Well, good-by, Uncle Tom; keep a stiff upper lip,” said George.

The earliest British citation in the Oxford English Dictionary isn’t until 1887, when it appears in the newspaper The Spectator.


Oxford English Dictionary, second edition, 1989, s. v. stiff, adj., n., and adv.

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