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Stiff Upper Lip

Stiff Upper Lip
"Twixt Love and Duty", 1914. A first world war postcard of a British officer saying farewell to a loved one © TopFoto.co.uk

The advice to "keep a stiff upper lip" resounded throughout the schooldays of a certain generation. Refusing to give in to fear on the field of play, maintaining a dry eye on discovering that his trousers had been stolen during gym: these were the qualities that would arm a young gentleman for the worst that life could throw at him.

Although the phrase itself is American in origin, and the concept of toughening up youngsters by harsh physical education goes back to ancient Greece, the characteristic of undaunted stoicism came to be associated particularly with the English. Today, there are signs that we value this trait less, as we succumb to bursts of public rage while driving, or bawl our eyes out when our favourite contestant on The X-Factor is voted off. That said, in times of true adversity, we still do the stiff upper lip rather well, as is sometimes admiringly remarked by our neighbours.