Hold the fort and hold down the fort

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Hold the fort and hold down the fort are variations of an idiom with its roots in the Middle Ages. 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)