Bob’s Your Uncle Meaning and Origin

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

The decidedly lighthearted British phrase, Bob’s your uncle, is commonly seen at the end of sentences that provide simple instructions, but what does it mean?

The English use it quite often as an exclamatory term, but it’s gained recognition in the United States through international sports broadcasting.

Despite its rise in popularity, it still is not well known or used in American English. We’ve defined its use below, explored its origin, and used it in plenty of examples to help you use it correctly in your speech and writing.

What Does Bob’s Your Uncle Mean?

Bob’s your uncle is mainly used in Britain and associated Commonwealth countries and means something is accomplished easily. It is usually tacked onto the end of a series of events or instructions to indicate all has gone exactly as expected.

When used in that manner, it works as a type of interjection, abrupt remark, or interruption in speech and writing.

For example:

  • Simply turn the gasket to the right, tighten the screw, and Bob’s your uncle! All is set and ready to go!

It also can be used as an exclamation to mean everything is okay and successful results have been obtained.

For example:

  • Amy: John, all you needed to do was turn in the form. So, you are all set for the camping trip!
  • John: Well, Bob’s your uncle! Great news!

Where Does the Term Bob’s Your Uncle Come From?

Bobs your uncle ngram
nGram: Bob’s Your Uncle in Writing

The most popular (albeit unproven) origin of the phrase Bob’s your uncle seems to have sprung from an act of nepotism, the practice of hiring family members and personal associates into positions they haven’t earned, during Victorian times.

When British Prime Minister Robert Cecil, Lord Salisbury, appointed his nephew, Arthur James Balfour, to a series of political posts – he raised questions about the young man’s qualifications.

The most controversial appointment occurred in 1887 when he was appointed Chief Secretary of Ireland.

Arthur Balfour was a less than popular pick who had not spent his life doing anything productive. Being appointed to such a high profile and important position that he was entirely unsuitable for was disappointing to more qualified candidates. And, to the public, it was clear that this act was “playing favorites.”

If the appointment had been granted by anyone other than Arther’s influential uncle, the term may never have happened. But, over time, to have Bob as your uncle became a term to mean you were guaranteed positions you otherwise may never have qualified for: Bob’s your uncle.

In time, Bob’s your uncle came to mean accomplishing something easily and with little effort.

Other Possible Theories

As mentioned, the nepotism slant is the most likely source of the phrase, but other slang terms may have influenced its overall use and meaning as well.

In the 18th Century, “all is bob” meant all is safe. This term is derived from the phrase “it’s all bob” to indicate that something was good.

At the same time, the name Bob was used as a generic name to refer to somebody you didn’t know.

Any of these, or a combination, may have lent themselves to “Bob’s your uncle.”

How to Use Bob’s Your Uncle in a Sentence

If you have no Goo Gone, rub a piece of orange on the gunk from stick-on labels and Bob’s your uncle. [New York Times]

Tourism image remains essential, and as sure as Bob’s your uncle, it is counting on the London Games as a giant booster shot to its GDP. [Boston Globe]

I generally hate touch screens unless I’m using a tablet, but since you can use the R 13 as a tablet as well as a laptop, Bob’s your uncle. (The Canada Free Press)

I guess someone will have to print some money, hand it over to each Nation then to its citizens at a higher interest rate & Bob’s your uncle. [News 9 on Twitter]

The report itself is a predictably dry 42-page affair that attempts [to] hoard up a load of unmarked fivers and Bob’s your uncle (allegedly). [The Mirror]

Once you’ve made sure everything is in tip top shape and there are no blockages, Bob’s your uncle. [Perth Now]

Let’s Review

Despite its questionable origins concerning an uncle Bob, Bob’s your uncle is a fun English phrase that means something is easily accomplished. It usually follows a series of directions or is used as a stand-alone exclamation.

Mainly used in Britain and associated Commonwealth countries, it has gained some popularity in the United States due to its use in international sports broadcasting. However, it is still often used out of context and requires a brief lesson surrounding its use.