Hold the fort and hold down the fort

Hold the fort and hold down the fort are variations of an idiom with its roots in the Middle Ages. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase, or phrasal verbs that have a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. These figures of speech often use descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often colloquialisms or descriptors that are spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase or expression that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions that native speakers understand such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, eye to eye, barking up the wrong tree, bite the bullet, beat a dead horse, hit the nail on the head, kicked the bucket, blow off steam, jump on the bandwagon, piece of cake, hit the sack, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. It is possible to memorize a list of idioms, but it may be easier to pay attention to the use of idioms in everyday speech, where peculiar imagery will tell you that the expressions should not be taken literally. We will examine the meaning of the idiomatic phrases hold the fort and hold down the fort, where they came from, and some examples of their use in sentences.

To hold the fort or to hold down the fort means to take care of business while the boss is away, to keep a process running while others are absent, to maintain the status quo while one is left in charge. For instance, an employee who keeps a dinner shift running in a restaurant while the manager is temporarily away may be said to hold the fort. A parent who supervises a group of children while the other parent runs to the store for supplies may be said to hold the fort. The idiom hold the fort began as a literal, military phrase, meaning to defend a fort while waiting for reinforcements or resupply. By the 1800s, the expression hold the fort took on a figurative meaning. The variation hold down the fort is an Americanism that came into use in the late 1800s-early 1900s, using the slang phrase hold down which meant to occupy.


The Egbe Omo Yoruba encouraged South-west governors and stakeholders to hold the fort, arguing that “if Hisbah has been operating since 1999 and it is not deemed unconstitutional, Amotekun has a right to protect the people of Yorubaland from violent marauders who have not been effectively deterred by the existing federal security operatives.” (The Premium Times)

Welcome back to Nellie and Daniel Davies, who attended Nellie’s eldest son’s wedding in the Philippines – leaving Mike at home to hold the fort. (The South Coast Herald)

Pearl Jam step back into the spotlight after an eight-year hiatus with their upcoming studio album, Gigaton, that’ll take them all over Canada and the US this spring for the accompanying tour, while the South Korean juggernauts will take over the earlier part of the summer for their 17-date North American jaunt and McGraw will hold down the fort for the latter part of summer into September for his Here On Earth Tour. (Billboard Magazine)

“Obviously we try to hold down the fort until those guys get back.” (Toronto Sun)

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