face the music

This phrase meaning to accept responsibility, suffer consequences is an Americanism dating to the mid-19th century. The underlying metaphor is uncertain. From the New Hampshire Statesman and State Journal of 17 February 1834:

We want no equivocation—“face the music” this time—Gove and Barton are able backers.

Many of the earliest citations of the phrase are from New Hampshire, indicating that the term arose there, or at least arose in New England.

There are a couple of common explanations for the phrase, but none have any conclusive evidence to support them.  The first explanation is that it derives from the stage. With the musicians in a pit before the stage, to face the music is to turn towards the audience and either their hoots or cheers. Another is that it is military in origin, and refers to a ceremony where an officer is cashiered and is literally drummed out of the service.

Because of the early citations from New Hampshire, it has also been suggested that face the music may have originated in contra dancing, a social dance form that was popular in 19th century New England and is still practiced in New Hampshire today. But like the other proposed explanations, no evidence definitively linking the phrase to the dance form has been unearthed.

(Source: ADS-L)

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