stiff upper lip

keep a stiff upper lip

Meaning

  • to be brave in the face of adversity
  • to keep your emotions in control and not show when you are upset
  • to remain firm in purpose and not let an unpleasant situation distract you

Example Sentences

  1. Throughout the funeral of her parents, Mary kept a stiff upper lip.
  2. Despite the failure of the team to qualify for the world cup, the coach and the players kept a stiff upper lip.
  3. It is hard to keep a stiff upper lip when everything is simply falling apart.
  4. When John saw his poor performance in the exams, he kept a stiff upper lip.
  5. After being scolded by her parents in front of all her friends, Lucy struggled to keep a stiff upper lip.

Origin

The concept of the stiff upper lip is traced back to Ancient Greece – to the Spartans, whose cult of discipline and self-sacrifice was a source of inspiration to the English public school system; and to the Stoics. Stoic ideas were adopted by the Romans, particularly the Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

The concept reached England in the 1590s. The phrase became symbolic of the British people, and particularly of those who were students of the English public school system during the Victorian era. Such schools were heavily influenced by stoicism and aimed to instill a code of discipline and devotion to duty in their pupils through ‘character-building’ competitive sports (as immortalised in the poem ‘Vitai Lampada’), corporal punishments, and cold showers.

The phrase was first used in the US in the 17th century and ironically, it was used to refer to British people. The origin of the phrase can also be traced to the fact that when someone is afraid or scared, their lips start to tremble. So to keep a stiff upper lip showed that one was unafraid and this is how the idiom came to be used in everyday language.

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