Keep a stiff upper lip

The idiom keep a stiff upper lip was popularized in the 1960s, but has been in use since at least the early 1800s. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase 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 such as beat around the bush, ballpark figure, let the cat out of the bag, hit the sack, close but no cigar, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, a dime a dozen, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, 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. We will examine the meaning of the idiom keep a stiff upper lip, where it comes from and some examples of its use in sentences.

To keep a stiff upper lip means to be stoic, to display fortitude and restraint, to hold one’s emotions in check, especially when doing something that is emotionally difficult, unpleasant, or that involves some type of adversity. The phrase keep a stiff upper lip refers to holding one’s face in an unemotional, deadpan fashion so as not to betray emotions such as fear, distaste, revulsion, sorrow, etc. The expression keep a stiff upper lip was popularized by the novel Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse and published in 1963. Interestingly, the idiom keep a stiff upper lip originated as an American way to describe staying resolute without giving way to emotion. In time, Americans came to use the term to describe Englishmen. Related phrases are keeps a stiff upper lip, kept a stiff upper lip, keeping a stiff upper lip.


When the week was over and Missoula’s first chautauqua had run its course, the Missoulian tried to keep a stiff upper lip.  (The Fairfield Sun Times)

Aguilar, maybe the most unfailingly upbeat player in the Brewers clubhouse, admitted it’s been tough to keep a stiff upper lip throughout his struggles. (The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

This is a humorous — but also inspiring story — of London during the World War II blitz of bombings and death and the British determination to keep a stiff upper lip and muddle through. (The Broomfield Enterprise)

The teenager kept a stiff upper lip in school, but he didn’t hide his pain from his family.  (Reader’s Digest)

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