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Stiff Upper Lip

Biography

What is actually involved in keeping a stiff upper lip? Avoid any confusion by reading our history of the expression.

The Basics

Like many another thing that is quintessentially English, the stiff upper lip isn’t. The phrase itself is American in origin, first appearing in newspapers in the US in the early years of the 19th century. It at first denoted a simple attitude of determination, and only then became a symbol of forbearance under duress, a bulwark against emotional display, a refusal to lose our heads when all about us are losing theirs.

The Basics
Stiff Upper Lip: a History

Stiff Upper Lip: a History

Ask a foreigner what trait they most associate with the English character, and it’s a fair bet that the stiff upper lip will be at or near the top of the list. But what does this rather peculiar phrase actually mean, and where did it come from?

Spartans and Stoics

The ideal of the stiff upper lip can be traced back to Ancient Greece - to the Spartans, whose cult of discipline and self-sacrifice inspired the English public school system; and to the Stoics, who invented a whole school of philosophy, based on keeping a stiff upper lip…

Spartans and Stoics