Stiff Upper Lip – Idiom, Meaning and Origin

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

To keep a stiff upper lip means maintaining one’s composure and refraining from showing emotion during challenging or turbulent times. With its roots traced back to our British counterparts, this idiom serves as a testament to their renowned stoic resilience.

Idioms, like this one, are fascinating elements of the English language, offering more than what meets the eye. They’re expressions whose meanings can’t be understood merely from their individual words, but rather, they provide rich, cultural flavors that breathe life into conversations. Think of idioms as the linguistic equivalent of a GIF, adding depth and color to our speech.

Ready to delve deeper into the origin and usage of “stiff upper lip”? Keep reading, and embark on this enlightening journey with me.

Stiff Upper Lip Meaning Explained

Stiff Upper Lip – Idiom Meaning and Origin

The phrase stiff upper lip is used to describe a person’s emotional resilience or fortitude. It implies maintaining composure and refusing to let negative situations get you down. You don’t wail, moan, or beat your chest; you soldier on, probably with a hot cup of very British tea.

But apparently, this phrase goes far beyond its British origins. Some say it was even used as far back as the time of the Spartans.

Origin of Stiff Upper Lip

Stiff Upper Lip Ngram
Stiff upper lip usage trend.

Stiff upper lip is a common phrase with British origins, and we usually say it when describing the traditional British character—unflappable, resolute, and unemotional in the face of adversity.

The “lip” in question is the upper lip, which, when stiff, is supposed to represent a lack of emotional wavering. Whether it’s a Sherlock-level problem or a queue at the supermarket, a stiff upper lip will get you through. It was popularized by the novel Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse and published in 1963.

With that being said, there are sources that put this phrase as one birthed from ancient Greece and the Spartans. They were a people well-known for their discipline and relentlessness on the battlefield, and keeping a stiff upper lip, even when your leg was chopped off, was a sign of just how tough you were. The concept migrated to the UK sometime in the 1500s, where it was popularized and used as a mainstream saying by the 1800s.

Synonyms for Keep a Stiff Upper Lip

  • Remain unflappable
  • Keep your cool
  • Maintain composure
  • Hold it together
  • Stay poised

Stiff Upper Lip in Sentence Examples

Stiff Upper Lip – Idiom Meaning and Origin 1

  • Despite the terrible news about the sudden death in her family, Emily kept a stiff upper lip.
  • The soldier faced danger on the battlefield with a stiff upper lip.
  • “Keep a stiff upper lip,” he said as we navigated through the crisis.
  • His stiff upper lip during the whole murder trial earned him so much respect.
  • A stiff upper lip can be your best asset when faced with failure.
  • The team kept a stiff upper lip after losing the championship, and the fans respected them for it.
  • She somehow kept a stiff upper lip throughout the grueling interview process.
  • In times of national crisis, it’s important for leaders to keep a stiff upper lip.
  • Despite personal hardships, our teacher’s stiff upper lip inspired us all.
  • “Don’t worry, keep a stiff upper lip,” she said, sensing my nervousness.

Is Your Upper Lip Feeling a Bit Stiffer?

Stiff upper lip is one of those encouraging idioms that remind us to stay strong. Now, you’re not just equipped but emotionally armored with your very own stiff upper lip. Take this idiom and use it in conversation, or find a way to work it into your creative writing. And be sure to study our hundreds of other idiom guides!